Juror chucked for lying about gang relations in trial

An accused “stealth juror” who prosecutors said infiltrated the jury pool of the Faustino Ayala trial in order to throw the outcome of the high profile gang murder case was tossed for misconduct Thursday.

The unnamed woman wept and said she was misunderstood during the nearly three-hour hearing, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Judge Barbara Mallach ruled that the woman had lied under oath during the jury selection process, concealing the fact that she had multiple family members in gangs, a relative in the witness relocation program, previous contact with police and a familiarity with methamphetamine.

After excusing the woman, Mallach appointed an alternate juror in her place to deliberate the Ayala’s fate. The defendant, an alleged Norteño gang member, is accused of driving a group of gang members to fatally shoot a Redwood City man in 2005.

Mallach denied a motion for a mistrial by Ayala’s defense attorney, who claimed the woman had tainted the objectivity of other jurors.

The problem with the juror came to light the previous afternoon, when the jury foreman sent a note to the judge saying the woman revealed her family gang ties and then refused to deliberate further, Wagstaffe said.

“It’s a very disturbing and dismaying thing,” Wagstaffe said. “We believe she tried to get on that jury with a purpose.”

Prosecutors haven’t decided whether to file criminal charges against the woman. Perjury is punishable by up to four years in state prison, Wagstaffe said.

“At this point, we’re focusing on a conviction in the case. We’ll assess [filing criminal charges] later,” he said.

Ayala, a 23-year-old Redwood City resident, could face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted in the July 12, 2005, killing of 21-year-old Francisco Rodriguez. Prosecutors say that while Ayala drove, then-14-year-old Josue Orozco gunned down the former gang member as he worked in his driveway.

Ayala’s attorneys say he was extremely intoxicated when he drove to Rodriguez’s house and believed he was traveling to a fight, not a killing.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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