NEWARK — A state appeals court today reversed the manslaughter conviction of a Newark man accused of gunning down a drug rival in 2007, finding that an Essex County judge mishandled allegations about a juror’s misconduct.
The decision by the three-judge panel of the state Appellate Division sends the case against Allateef Livingston back to Superior Court in Newark for a new trial.
In 2010, Livingston, 34, was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Klalife Logan on a Newark street during what police say was a dispute over street-corner sales of marijuana.
Logan was shot 11 times by an automatic assault rifle and was in such pain that he was unable to identify his assailant, the decision said.
Livingston was found not guilty of the more serious charge of first-degree murder and sentenced to 45 years in prison on May 27. 2010.
Before his sentencing, Livingston’s mother reported seeing the jury forewoman visiting a defendant at the Essex County jail. The inmate was the father of the forewoman’s son, according to the decision.
Livingston’s lawyer tried to get his conviction overturned, noting that before the juror was included on the panel, she answered ‘no’ when asked whether she, a family member or friend had ever been accused of committing a criminal offense.
During a hearing 10 days before Livingston’s sentencing, the judge questioned the juror about why she answered no.
“I honestly was thinking like you were looking for like a sister or brother or my mother or somebody,” she said. “I wasn’t taking into consideration that it was talking about my son’s father.”
At one point, the decision notes, her son’s father was in the same holding cell as Livingston.
The judge, whose name is not included in the decision, turned down the request to toss out the conviction, while noting the forewoman’s character was “somewhat juvenile.”
In its decision, the panel said the judge should have questioned the juror about whether the criminal charges pending against her son’s father would have affected her ability to be fair and impartial.
And, the panel said, the judge should have quizzed other jurors to find out if the forewoman had spoken to them about the charges pending against her son’s father.
“The information that juror number one failed to disclose during voir dire was potentially prejudicial,” the panel wrote, referring to the pre-trial questioning of jurors. “Her son’s father was in the same jail as defendant, shared a holding cell with defendant and stood to be tried by the same judge. He was clearly in a position to discuss with juror number one defendant and his case and she could have shared that information with other jurors.
"At at minimum, there was a significant potential for mischief that manifestly could have played a role in defendant’s conviction,” the judges wrote.
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