By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: April 16, 2009
Letters from a jilted ex-girlfriend to a man awaiting retrial in a bank robbery case indicate he may have been framed, according to his attorney.
Jesse Garcia, 32, sits at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland awaiting a second trial after the first ended in November with a deadlocked jury.
Prosecutors say Garcia robbed the Bank of America branch in downtown Keene in August. Garcia’s court-appointed attorney, Theodore W. Barnes, said it was a setup.
Barnes has filed a request to have the second trial rescheduled from May 4 to a later date, because of a pair of letters Garcia’s ex-girlfriend, Cynthia Wood, sent him in jail.
His request also cites a delay in receiving court transcripts from the first trial.
Barnes writes in his request that Wood makes statements in the jail letters that “call into question the truthfulness” of what she told Keene police and, later, the jury when she took the stand during last year’s trial.
Wood also partially identifies a person who may have planted evidence that was used to connect Garcia to the robbery and indicates that the police were aware of evidence that proved Garcia’s innocence, according to Barnes.
Garcia was arrested at a Brattleboro hotel after Wood went to the police with a pellet gun and a black mask she said she found among Garcia’s belongings. Prosecutors say that the bank robber used both items during the crime.
Wood later testified in court that she was furious with Garcia when she went to the police because he left her for a stripper.
Barnes declined to comment on the jail letters when reached at his office in Manchester. He said in court during the first trial that he believed Wood framed Garcia, and suggested that her son committed the bank robbery.
Cheshire County Superior Court Judge Brian T. Tucker has yet to answer Barnes’ request for a continuance. Tucker has denied several other requests Barnes filed in preparation for the retrial.
Barnes asked that the pellet gun and ski mask be kept out of court because Wood’s testimony linking Garcia to both pieces of evidence was unreliable.
Tucker decided to let the next jury determine Wood’s credibility, and ruled they should see the pellet pistol and ski mask.
Technicians at the state crime lab in Concord found Garcia’s DNA on a cutting of fabric from the ski mask, and witness descriptions of the robber’s gun match the appearance of the pellet pistol, according to Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen G. O’Reilly.
Barnes also asked the court for additional funding to hire a private investigator to track down the original jurors and determine whether their deliberative sessions were tainted by news coverage of the trial, which detailed Garcia’s previous conviction for armed robbery.
The jurors were initially leaning toward acquittal with an 11-1 vote, but came back after a weekend break between deliberations with a vote of 9-3 in favor of conviction. Barnes said he took the wild swing in votes as a sign of a tainted jury.
When asked to describe the eight hours of deliberations that led to the mistrial, jury foreman Mark Griffin held out his trembling hands as evidence of how high tensions ran.
He said jurors were yelling at each other as they discussed Garcia’s guilt or innocence. Griffin said he believed Garcia was guilty.
“I’m certainly upset about the outcome. I find it to be very frustrating,” he said. “Unless the guy was tackled in the foyer of the bank and held until police arrived, it’s difficult to come to a unanimous decision with all the different personalities involved in this jury.”
Barnes also writes in his request for a private investigator that Griffin’s “vehemence” and “emotion” may have affected other jurors and the outcome of the trial, furthering his concern about jury prejudice.
O’Reilly argued that jurors were repeatedly instructed to avoid news accounts of the trial as it was unfolding and during deliberations, and that there was no evidence that showed they disobeyed those orders. Tucker agreed, and denied Barnes’ request.
Barnes said he is exploring other options to track down and interview the jurors, but declined to comment further on the case.
If he was able to prove juror bias, Barnes said previously that he would try to convince a judge that retrying Garcia is unconstitutional.