Thursday, December 20, 2007

Murder suspect will get new trial because of judicial error

By Nancy L. Othón

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

December 20, 2007

An appeals court on Wednesday ordered a new trial for a man convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of another man because the trial judge refused to sequester jurors in between deliberations.

Eulis Campbell, 28, is serving a life sentence after a jury found him guilty of killing Farook Baksh west of West Palm Beach in March 2003. Baksh, 45, had been stabbed and sliced 56 times and his body was found by firefighters responding to a fire set at his home. Prosecutors said Campbell and Baksh met at a West Palm Beach gay bar and returned to Baksh's home.

Campbell testified that he killed Baksh, who had been married for 20 years, in self-defense.

The jury opted to recommend a life sentence rather than the death penalty sought by prosecutors.

At the conclusion of the November 2006 trial, jurors deliberated several hours before going home for a long weekend. Circuit Judge Richard Wennet denied a defense motion for jury sequestration, saying there was nothing to indicate that jurors would violate an instruction not to read any published accounts of the trial.

He later denied a motion for a new trial based on the same issue, stating that no prejudice was shown as a result of a failure to sequester and that the case was not a death penalty case because the death penalty was not imposed.

But a three-judge panel from the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed the decision, citing two prior cases including one in which courts ruled that allowing jurors to go home for a weekend after they have begun deliberations, particularly in a capital case, raises serious questions about their ability to resume deliberations "completely free from outside influences," according to the opinion.

In an even more strongly worded opinion from a 1984 case, an appeals court ruled that juries must be sequestered in capital cases after deliberations have begun and that separating jurors after they have begun deliberating is grounds for a mistrial in a capital case.

The opinion will either be appealed or Campbell will be tried again, said Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams, who prosecuted the case. Campbell's attorney could not be reached for comment, despite a phone call to the Public Defender's Office.

Nancy Othón can be reached at or 561-228-5502.

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