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Jury inquiry wraps up in Hughes homicide case

September 7, 2018

The 12th and final juror in the Dante Hughes homicide case provided answers consistent with the other jurors when he was questioned Thursday in New London Superior Court about discussion of the dictionary definition of manslaughter during deliberations.

Hughes faces up to 50 years in prison for the Dec. 11, 2016, shooting death of Joey Gingerella in the parking lot of Ryan’s Pub in Groton. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 4, but will go forward only if Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed does not grant defense attorney Walter D. Hussey’s expected motion for a new trial.

The next hearing on the issue is Sept. 26, when it will be decided whether the sentencing will go forward.

The judge had called all of the jurors in for questioning this week after a female juror told a court clerk that another juror had said he looked up the definition of manslaughter in the dictionary. She questioned 11 of the jurors on Tuesday and continued the hearing to Thursday to accommodate the final juror’s schedule.

On Tuesday, one of the male jurors admitted under questioning that he had looked up the definition of manslaughter in the dictionary but said it had no affect on his ability to be fair and impartial and to follow the instructions that had been provided by the judge. All but one of the other jurors said they recalled the man bringing up the topic and being told by other jurors that he should not be discussing the outside information. They all said it did not affect their deliberations.

Defense attorney Walter D. Hussey indicated at the beginning of the inquiry that he likely would be filing a motion for a new trial. At the conclusion of Thursday’s session, he said he would be obtaining a transcript of the two days of questioning.

“I want to make sure I get it correct,” Hussey said. “The issue has been researched. I just need to apply the facts. It wouldn’t take long.”

The jury, charged with considering whether Hughes was guilty of murder or the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm, had indicated on the third day of deliberations that they agreed Hughes was guilty of something but they could not agree on what. That same day, they sent out a note asking if they could look up the definition of manslaughter in the dictionary and were told to rely only on the information provided by the judge. Jongbloed had read from the bench the instructions, which contained Connecticut’s legal definitions of murder and manslaughter, and each juror had received a printed copy of the 26-page jury charge. 

The next day, the jury announced that it had found Hughes not guilty of the murder charge. They said they had found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm with reckless indifference for human life, a “lesser included charge” the state had added for consideration during the trial.

On Tuesday, the victim’s mother, Tammy de la Cruz, sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery, clutching an urn decorated with New York Yankees pinstripes. She said she brought her son’s ashes because Joey hasn’t been able to have a presence in the courtroom. 

“The only person who’s had any rights is Dante Hughes,” de la Cruz said.

Gingerella’s family was displeased when the jury found Hughes not guilty of murder, and is further distressed by the possibility of a mistrial due to juror misconduct. 

“This is kind of a weird time for me,” de la Cruz said. “My daughter’s about to give birth to a baby boy.”

Kayla Gingerella, the victim’s sister, has said she plans to name her son after her brother Joey.

Should the judge eventually grant Hughes a new trial, it is unclear whether he could be tried again on the murder charge due to the concept of “double jeopardy.” Under the law, the state cannot prosecute someone more than once for the same crime.

Prosecutor Paul J. Narducci said his office is researching the double jeopardy question.

“It has not been resolved,” he said. ’I don’t think it has to be resolved unless or until the court would order a new trial.”

k.florin@theday.com

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