Last week a judge declared a mistrial after a jury became deadlocked in the trial of Joel Herrera, a Latin Kings gang member accused of murdering 20-year-old Glenn Wright in the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side three years ago. The murder devastated many in Wright's East Harlem community and beyond—Herrera allegedly stabbed Wright to death because he believed he was another man who robbed a relative of a fellow gangster. Herrera was charged with second degree murder, manslaughter, and gang assault.
After a two week trial and several days of deliberations, the jury found Herrera not guilty of murder. But they could not reach a unanimous consensus on the other charges, deadlocking with 10 jurors on the guilty side and two not guilty holdouts. Judge Ruth Pickholz then declared a mistrial, and the Manhattan DA's office tells us they will retry Herrera on the two lesser charges, which each carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. Following the mistrial, Wright's sister, Karina Rodriguez, spoke with us.
Were you surprised by how this played out? Yeah, really surprised. I'm not happy that we'll have to endure this process all over again. I never expected a mistrial. I didn't even consider that that would be possible. But I've taken some time to think about it, and if it means starting all over again and having a fresh set of eyes and ears in the courtroom to discern the facts of the case and render a fair and appropriate decision... I don't think that everyone on the jury was clear on the law and the judge's instructions. They would send notes to the judge and, just based on their questions, it appeared to me and a lot of us that they were focused on things outside of the realm of what was presented in the courtroom during the trial.
Can you give me an example? They were concerned about what happened with other individuals that were mentioned in the presence of the scene and that really really wasn't relevant. They had a hard time understanding the law based on what manslaughter is, what is considered manslaughter, what's considered gang assault, what's not considered gang assault... I hate that we have to go through it all again, but I think even the judge understood that this is not the right jury for this kind of case. This is a serious case, so she did the right thing in dismissing them and calling a mistrial. It's just unfortunate we have to go through this all again.
Why do you think they acquitted on the murder charge? You know, to be honest, I personally never thought we would see a conviction on that. Murder charges seem like they require a lot more than what was presented, so we never really expected to get that. Obviously it was a top charge, but I never expected that we would get that. But I was certain on the manslaughter and the gang assault, because that was right there, it was black and white. So that didn't surprise me, but what surprised me was that they did come to a clear decision on the murder charge but couldn't come to a clear decision on the other two charges. I just look at it now like if they weren't sure in this case, on these two particular charges, then how can we really trust your decision on that first charge? And now that charge is gone, we can't use it again in mistrial.
What was your reaction when the mistrial was declared? I was pretty calm. I just saw that the jury was having a hard time and struggling with trying to put it all together, so I was bracing for it. [Joel Herrera] was clearly surprised. His entire section was completely surprised. His attorney dropped his jaw. They couldn't believe it. That says a lot, that they were more surprised than I was.