While deliberating on a grisly assault case in Weld County, the jury sent a note to the judge asking how long into the evening they should keep talking — adding that two people had to catch flights in the morning.
“You have as much time as you need,” the judge responded.
Two-and-a-half hours later, jurors convicted John Michael Cordova of stabbing and assaulting Tricia Jones. Cordova appealed, arguing the time constraint for the two jurors with flights potentially coerced the jury into reaching a verdict.
But on Thursday, the Court of Appeals upheld Cordova's convictions, finding no indication that the jury had reached an impasse or that anyone was pressured into changing their minds.
“The fact that two jurors had flights the following morning, alone, does not show that the jury would be coerced into reaching a verdict since there was still ample time to continue the deliberations during the evening,” wrote Chief Judge Steve Bernard in the appellate court’s July 22 opinion.
Cordova, of Hudson, received a sentence of 52 years in prison for stabbing Jones 23 times and beating her head in with a shovel in 2016. Jones was severely injured, and the prosecutor said it was a "miracle" she survived. The jury also acquitted Cordova of attempted murder.
“I can’t recall seeing anything more brutal,” District Court Judge Shannon D. Lyons said at the time.
Cordova’s defense was that another person committed the assaults.
The jury had been deliberating for five hours when, at 5 p.m. it sent a note to Lyons indicating it had only reached a verdict on one of the three criminal charges.
“The split is close to even,” the note said. “How much longer should we continue? We have 2 people who have flights scheduled early tomorrow morning.”
Cordova’s lawyer said she was wary of encouraging the jurors to rush to a decision. Lyons then sent a note in reply telling the jury it had as much time as was necessary to get a unanimous verdict.
After one more hour, another note came to the judge, saying jurors only had one charge left to discuss. They also requested a break to call their families and “bring them up to date about our situation.”
At this point, Cordova’s lawyer asked the judge to speak to the jurors individually to determine if the upcoming flights were improperly influencing the jury’s process. Lyons declined to do so.
The judge said he could understand if, hypothetically, the jury returned at 1 a.m., that “the jurors may feel as though, gosh, I’ve got to make a decision now or else I’m not going to make my flight tomorrow, I’m not going to get home and have time to pack and get to the airport in time and so they just kind of reach a verdict for that reason.” But, he added, “it’s not real late right now.”
The jury reached its verdict at 7:30 p.m.
Cordova argued on appeal that Lyons should have inquired about the jurors’ progress toward reaching consensus before issuing any instruction.
“In essence, the district court’s instruction, given after 5:00 p.m., and after the jurors expressed concern for early morning travel plans, created a deadline for deliberations," Cordova’s attorney wrote to the Court of Appeals.
Prosecutors countered that Lyons’s instruction was “innocuous,” and the appellate court agreed the judge had done nothing wrong by declining to ask about the nature of the deliberations.
Although courts may declare mistrials if a jury cannot reach a verdict, there is also an instruction judges can issue beforehand advising deadlocked jurors to "not hesitate to reexamine your own views and change your opinion." This category of instruction, known as an "Allen Charge," has received criticism — including from judges — over its potentially coercive effects.
The case is People v. Cordova.