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‘White guilt’? Jurors in hate-crime trial of ex-South Jersey police chief felt pressured in verdict, lawyer says.

An attorney for former Bordentown Township police chief Frank Nucera has asked a judge to overturn a conviction in his hate-crime assault trial, citing racial animus by jurors during their deliberations.

File photo: Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. (left) listens as his attorney Rocco Cipparone speaks to reporters following a mistrial in October in his federal hate-crime assault case.
File photo: Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. (left) listens as his attorney Rocco Cipparone speaks to reporters following a mistrial in October in his federal hate-crime assault case.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. wants his hate-crime conviction tossed, court documents say, because white jurors allege they were pressured by black jurors to reach a verdict and they gave in to “white guilt.”

In a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Camden by defense attorney Rocco Cipparone Jr., four of the nine white jurors express remorse for convicting Nucera in October on a count of lying to the FBI. The jury, which included three black women, was deadlocked on one count each of hate-crime assault and civil rights violation, and a mistrial was declared.

» READ MORE: Jury foreman in deadlocked trial of N.J. ex-police chief: ‘We realized we just weren’t going to get anywhere’

Within days of the verdict, the jurors contacted Cipparone and later gave sworn affidavits alleging that they were unduly coerced and bullied by the three black jurors during deliberations that lasted for about 45 hours over eight days. The black jurors ignored evidence and shared their personal experiences with racism, the motion says, and white jurors believed they had to convict Nucera on at least one charge or they would be labeled racists.

“There were certainly racial tensions and racial experiences … that tainted the jury deliberations,” Cipparone said Wednesday.

The 12 jurors were identified by their juror numbers, and the court filing said their names were not included because they said they feared public backlash. The Inquirer obtained the jury list — which includes their names, hometowns, and occupations — from the court record.

Those who filed affidavits were Kelly Cunningham, of Cape May Court House, a teacher; Marc Cianfrani of Woodbury, a guidance counselor; Jillian Neiman of Southampton, a high school secretary; and Donna Viscome of Berlin, a bartender. Viscome declined to comment Wednesday and the others did not respond to messages.

Kia Lipscomb, the jury forewoman, who is black, said she was stunned by the allegations. The jurors pored over the evidence, listened to recordings repeatedly, and asked for the testimony of nearly every witness called during the three-week trial, she said.

“It’s malarkey. They just refused to convict the guilty white guy,” said Lipscomb, a Gloucester Township teacher. ”This is why there never will be justice for people of color.”

In a sworn statement, Juror 3, Cunningham, said she “compromised” her vote on the lying charge “to dispel any impression that I am a racist, not because I thought the government proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.” Cunningham said she continues “to experience substantial guilt” over her vote because “it was not my true vote.”

The four jurors described heated deliberations, with tears, profanity, and threats, the affidavits said. One juror asked for counseling and another asked the judge to intervene. Juror Shawn Poinsett, a white banker from Mount Laurel, became so agitated that he expressed a desire to rip a sink off the wall, and later pounded his fists on a table, saying, “I’ll be damned if we let this guy walk,” the affidavits state.

They complained in the affidavits about how the issue of race came up during the deliberations. Pamela Richardson of Marlton, one of the black jurors, spoke to the panel about her experiences growing up in the segregated South and raising two sons who have been racially profiled by police.

Richardson, according to the four white panelists, pushed them to reach a verdict. In her affidavit, Juror 2, Viscome, said Richardson told the jury: “I’m retired. This is $50 more per day than I am making at home. I have all the time in the world.”

Richardson, 63, a retired pharmaceutical representative, stood by her comments during deliberations. She disputed allegations by the jurors that she acted improperly.

“How can you be intimidated? You should be voting on the evidence, not what I say,” Richardson said Wednesday.

Richardson and Lipscomb spoke with The Inquirer immediately after the verdict. Richardson said race was an issue early on, and she worried that the jury would not reach a verdict.

“There was one gentleman who said to us in the early days, ‘The only reason you African American women are voting this way is because you’re black,” Richardson said. “I went, ‘No s—, Sherlock.’”

Citing racial animus in the heated deliberations, Cipparone asked U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler to vacate Nucera’s conviction. He also alleges that Richardson failed to disclose anti-police sentiments during jury selection, which likely would have kept her off the jury.

Nucera faces up to five years in prison at sentencing Feb. 6 for the lying conviction.

Civil rights attorney Stanley King, who was not involved in the trial, said it was unlikely the judge would overturn the conviction. He called the motion “a magician’s trick.”

“This is just unbelievable,” King said. “Race is polarizing this country.”

» READ MORE: Bordentown police chief called President Trump ‘the last hope for white people,’ a South Jersey officer testifies

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment Wednesday. Nucera, 62, faces retrial in March on the remaining two counts, charging that the former longtime police chief used excessive force against a black man during an arrest in September 2016 and that the assault was racially motivated.

Authorities said the chief had a history of spewing racial hatred, including speaking about joining a firing squad to mow black people down, comparing them to ISIS, and talking of sending police dogs to intimidate black spectators at high school basketball games.

» READ MORE: Ex-Bordentown Township police chief referred to blacks as ‘you people,’ a fellow officer testifies

During the trial, jurors heard Nucera on tape telling a fellow officer that President Donald Trump was ”the last hope for white people” and expressing concern that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would ”give in to all the minorities.” They also heard secretly made recordings of Nucera that captured the longtime law enforcement officer using slurs against blacks, Mexicans, and Asians.

The jury initially voted 10-2 to acquit Nucera on all three counts, the records said. A later vote was 9-3 to convict.