Misconduct from a now-jailed juror who convicted him of murder earlier this year has earned Victor Salastier Diaz a new murder trial in a case where he is accused of participating in a robbery and riding in a getaway car when one of his accomplices shot and killed a motorist.
According to court records, Circuit Judge Krista Marx on Friday granted Diaz’s request for a new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct from Philip Elliott, who in a series of private messages with another juror claimed he knew both Marx and her husband personally and because of that felt Marx “went easy” on him when investigating misconduct claims after Diaz January trial.
Assistant Public Defender Joseph Walsh asked for a new trial on May 2 and also asked Marx to remove herself from the case.
Marx agreed to give Diaz a new trial and step aside Friday, the day after a contempt of court hearing where she sent Elliott to jail for eight days after giving him a scathing lecture.
Among her findings, Marx ruled that Elliott committed jurors misconduct by looking up words related to the case despite her instructions against it and encouraged fellow juror, Samantha Scalpi, to lie to the court in jurors interviews scheduled shortly after Scapli raised misconduct allegations surrounding the panel’s January verdict.
“You maligned the dignity of this court,” Marx said Thursday before ordering deputies to handcuff Elliott and take him to jail. “You showed a complete and total disregard for the judicial system.”
Elliott told Marx that he had a crush on Scalpi, was trying to get her to date him and was possibly intoxicated when writing parts of a series of Facebook messages between the two that ultimately became his undoing when Scalpi turned them over to lawyers in the case.
Friday’s ruling marks the second time in three years that a defendant in a high-profile Palm Beach County case has won a new trial based on juror misdeeds.
Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath in 2013 overturned a DUI manslaughter conviction for Wellington polo club founder John Goodman on the same day he initiated criminal contempt proceedings against Dennis DeMartin, the juror he eventually ordered to jail for five months and 29 days for a series of missteps DeMartin unwittingly revealed in a pair of self-published books after the trial.
DeMartin was released on an appellate bond after serving 37 days of his sentence. Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal later rejected his quest to have his sentence thrown out, but Colbath on Friday will consider a request to reduce his sentence.
As for Diaz, no new hearings had been set as of early Monday ahead of what will be his third trial in the case. He is one of seven men accused in the death of Samuel Salomon, who was shot and killed when one of the Three Amigos robbers fired at the grocery store owner during a chase.
Four others are serving life sentences and another, who testified against them, is serving an 18-year sentence. One who was arrested in Spain last year is awaiting trial.
Diaz in 2010 was convicted of armed robbery and burglary charges. Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the murder charge, setting the stage for January’s trial.