Jeffrey Martinson Wins New Trial As Judge Cites Juror Misconduct, Legal Errors: UPDATE
A Superior Court judge yesterday afternoon granted a defense motion and ordered a new trial for convicted child killer Jeffrey Martinson.
In so doing, Judge Sally Duncan overturned last year's guilty verdicts of first-degree murder and child abuse against the 47-year-old Ahwatukee man, who has been incarcerated at the county jail since shortly after the August 2004 death of his 5-year-old son Josh.
The judge cited juror misconduct and a recently filed Arizona Court of Appeals opinion regarding the "opinion" testimony of a medical examiner in her detailed seven-page ruling.
We won't belabor readers with much background of this controversial and tragic case, but just about everything you need to know about it is available here, in our cover story published just last month.
Judge Duncan discussed the March 8 appellate decision in State v. Sosnowicz, which held that when a medical examiner's opinion about the manner of death is based on evidence that jurors would have been able to sort out without the aid of expert testimony, that testimony is inadmissible. (The manner of death concerns how someone died, i.e. homicide, suicide, natural causes.)
The appellate court said in its unanimous ruling that "the admissibility in a criminal case of a medical examiner's opinion regarding the manner of death depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case."
In Martinson, the testimony of medical examiner John Hu clearly was pivotal for prosecutors.
Dr. Hu testified that Josh absolutely died as a result of a murder--what he called "acute Soma toxicity."
Judge Duncan chided herself for allowing Hu to testify about the manner of death, writing that she "improperly allowed an expert witness to tell the jury how to decide the case."
She said that "Dr. Hu did not rely on any specialized knowledge in making his findings. Instead, he based his opinion on information that he was no more uniquely qualified to determine than the [jurors]."
The doctor gleaned that information from Phoenix police detectives, including the damning fact that Martinson had failed to call 911, unfavorable rulings against Martinson in his ongoing custody dispute with Josh's mother, and so on.