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Jurors ask for more time in hate-crime trial against former New Jersey police chief

The panel of three black and nine white jurors began deliberations Oct. 2.

Former Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. exits U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. The trial continues for Nucera, accused of hate-crime assault.
Former Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. exits U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. The trial continues for Nucera, accused of hate-crime assault.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

After deliberating for more than 44 hours over seven days, a jury requested more time Thursday to decide whether it can reach a unanimous verdict in the hate-crime assault trial of former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr.

The panel had remained in the jury room for about seven hours when U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler summoned the lawyers and announced, “Jury has just informed us that they want to come back tomorrow.”

The nine white and three black jurors will return at 9:30 a.m. Friday to resume deliberations. The jury has been deliberating since Oct. 2 in federal court in Camden.

On Wednesday, the jury found Nucera, 62, guilty of lying to the FBI, but remained undecided on two other charges: hate-crime assault and deprivation of civil rights. Each carries up to 10 years in prison. Nucera could also lose his $8,800-a-month pension, which was frozen in March pending the outcome of the trial.

In a statement Thursday, Bordentown Township Mayor Stephen Benowitz said township officials respect “the legal process and the outcome of the trial.”

”Bordentown Township is focused on moving forward and continuing to provide the best public services to all of its residents, businesses, and visitors,” the mayor said.

When Nucera was accused of the hate-crime assault in 2017, the charges made international headlines and stunned the South Jersey community. Authorities said the chief had a history of spewing racial hatred, including speaking about wanting to join a firing squad to mow down black people, comparing them to ISIS, and talking of sending police dogs to intimidate black spectators at high school basketball games.

» READ MORE: From 2017 - Ex-police chief in South Jersey had ‘history’ of racist conduct, but (almost) nobody knew

Nucera appeared stoic in court on Thursday. After the jury was sent home, Nucera and his family sat in a second-floor cafe in an apparent attempt to evade photographers staked outside the courthouse. Later, a family member circled the building in a sedan.

Defense attorney Rocco Cipparone said the trial has been a stressful time for Nucera, believed to be one of the first law enforcement officers charged with a hate crime in years. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the hate-crime law, which was spurred by the deaths of a black victim and a gay victim.

“He’s handling it as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Cipparone said. “It’s very grueling.”

Nucera was charged with hitting Timothy Stroye, a handcuffed black suspect, during a September 2016 incident at a Ramada hotel. Fellow officers say Stroye was in custody and not resisting when Nucera slammed the teen’s head into a metal doorjamb during a scuffle with police.

Police were dispatched to the Ramada after an employee said Stroye, then 18, of Trenton, and his girlfriend were swimming in the pool and had not paid their bill. Nucera arrived with backup officers.

At the center of the charges in the trial against Nucera were 81 recordings secretly made by Sgt. Nathan Roohr that captured the chief using racial slurs. Roohr and another officer also said they saw Nucera hit Stroye.

Nucera resigned from dual positions as chief and township administrator in January 2017 after learning the FBI was investigating. He was paid $155,444 a year.

Roohr said he began secretly recording Nucera with his cell phone in 2015 after Nucera said blacks are “like ISIS” and deserved to die. He said he became concerned about Nucera’s increasing hostility against blacks in the predominantly white community.

The prosecution contended that the racial animus was evidence the alleged assault by Nucera was racially motivated. In a recording played during the trial, Nucera could be heard saying, “It’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of these [expletives].”

During its deliberations, the jury asked for transcripts of the testimony of seven of the nine witnesses called by the prosecution. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.

» READ MORE: Jury asks about 'reasonable doubt’ in hate-crime assault trial for ex-Bordentown Township police chief

The defense has contended that Nucera was disliked by his officers, who wanted him out as chief. Cipparone has also said that Nucera made no admissions on the recordings.

The jury found on Wednesday that Nucera lied to the FBI, which secretly recorded an interview with him three months after the Ramada incident. Nucera was not charged with making a specific false statement.

Nucera could face up to five years in prison on the lying charge. Kugler set sentencing for Feb. 6.