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Jurors Doubt Verdict Against Migrant

July 24, 1988

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Three members of a jury that convicted a Mexican migrant worker of murder have formed a support group for the man after voicing doubts about their decision.

″I feel there is a really good chance he is innocent and we need to do something about it,″ Sherien Jaeger said in an interview with The Sunday Oregonian.

Jaeger voted to convict Santiago Ventura Morales as a jury member in October 1986. Ventura was sentenced to life in prison for the crime.

Jaeger said she has been tormented by doubt ever since the trial.

She said another juror, Patricia Lee, called her three days after the trial and ″said she felt very uncomfortable.″

″She asked me how I felt,″ Jaeger said. ″I just felt that I had made a mistake, and I didn’t know what to do about it.″

Now Jaeger, Lee and a third juror, David Ralls, visit Ventura in prison, send money and write letters to the state Parole Board pleading for his release.

Transcripts from the trial show that only one witness, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, testified that Ventura was the killer. The witness, Epifanio Bautista Lopez, initially testified that he saw nothing, but changed his testimony after a recess and he was taken into the district attorney’s office.

Under cross-examination, Bautista said he was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not testify the way the prosecutor wanted him to testify.

While jurors deliberated, they initially were split over the question of Ventura’s guilt. Jaeger was among those voting not guilty. Unable to reach a verdict, the jury was excused for the night.

Back in the jury room the next morning, Jaeger changed her vote to guilty, leaving only Lee and Glorya Oppitz on the innocent side, and they eventually relented.

Oppitz has refused to join the support group formed by Jaeger, Lee and Ralls, but said she would like to erase the trial from her memory.

Other jurors said they had no second thoughts.

″I felt he was guilty because he never testified,″ said Alma Dennis, another juror.

Several days after the trial, Lee, Oppitz, Ralls and Jaeger visited defense co-counsel Lane Borg, saying they had changed their minds and asking if they could do anything about it.

Borg found that a verdict cannot be thrown out simply because jurors change their minds. The support group has decided that if all other legal recourse fails, they will ask Gov. Neil Goldschmidt to commute Ventura’s sentence. Meanwhile, an appeal is pending.

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