Rape case conviction tossed over misconduct by judge
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A man who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in a child rape case in Las Vegas has been granted a new trial due to misconduct by a Nevada judge who berated a woman who said she couldn’t be unbiased if she was chosen for the jury.
A three-judge Nevada Supreme Court panel ruled that District Court Judge Richard Scotti’s frustrated outburst — including throwing a book at a wall, swearing and threatening repercussions for the woman before dismissing her from jury service — tainted the panel that eventually found Jose Azucena guilty in 2017.
Scotti said in a statement Friday that he regretted his actions.
“First and foremost, I regret what happened, obviously,” he said. “Despite that incident, I do have tremendous respect for our jury system and all of our jurors and our potential jurors.”
In their Thursday ruling, Supreme Court justices James Hardesty, Lidia Stiglich and Abbi Silver said they couldn’t be confident Scotti’s actions didn’t affect the guilty verdicts delivered by the jury against Azucena on 40 charges including child sexual assault, lewdness and kidnapping.
The woman told the judge she was a nurse and had seen the effects of child sexual abuse in her job, according to court records.
During questioning about whether she should be seated as a juror, Scotti spent several minutes angrily accusing the woman of making up a story to get out of jury service.
Video showed him throwing a book that the Review-Journal identified as a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution while yelling at the woman.
“You’re not going to be fair and impartial?” Scotti concluded. “You’re removed. Go home. All right. I don’t like your attitude.”
The state high court panel said the judge then “did nothing to alleviate the intimidating atmosphere that he created.” The ruling noted the next prospective juror to be questioned admitted that she had been sexually abused as a child but said she would not be biased.
“No other juror subsequently disclosed any bias or expressed any concerns about being impartial,” the justices said.
The court said a different judge should handle Azucena’s new trial.
Prosecutors said Azucena, now 66, was a family friend of the five girls he lured with candy and abused in his Las Vegas apartment complex between November 2014 and October 2016.