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

Still no verdict in the hate-crime assault trial of ex-Bordentown Township police chief Frank Nucera Jr.

In this file photo, Ex-Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr., departs the federal courthouse in Camden.
In this file photo, Ex-Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr., departs the federal courthouse in Camden.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

A jury weighing the fate of former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. asked the judge on Friday to clarify the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” then ended its deliberations for the day after about six hours without reaching a verdict.

Nucera is charged with one count each of hate-crime assault, deprivation of civil rights, and lying to the FBI. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. He could also lose his $8,800-a-month pension, which was suspended in March pending the outcome of the trial.

Authorities allege that Nucera, the longtime chief in the predominantly white community just outside Trenton, had a deep hatred against blacks, and that racial animosity was the motivation behind an assault on a black teenager.

U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler re-charged the jurors on reasonable doubt Friday afternoon after the panel sent a note seeking clarification. Earlier, the jury asked for transcripts of testimony by the key prosecution witness, Sgt. Nathan Roohr, who secretly recorded Nucera making racial slurs.

Civil rights attorney Stanley King, who has brought several police misconduct cases but is not involved in this one, speculated “that the jury is close to being deadlocked" based on the questions.

“It’s a tough case,” King said Friday.

The jury, with nine white and three black members, has deliberated for about 15 hours over three days. Kugler told jurors to return Monday at 9:30 a.m.

“It seems like they are just doing their very best to work through it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber said to the judge.

The charges stem from the Sept. 1, 2016, arrest of Timothy Stroye, then 18, of Trenton, at a Ramada hotel in Bordentown Township. Nucera was among several officers who responded after Stroye got into a scuffle with police.

Roohr testified that Stroye was handcuffed and not resisting when Nucera grabbed Stroye’s head “like a basketball” and slammed it against a wall, making a “loud thud.”

Afterward, at the police station, Nucera told one of the officers who witnessed the confrontation that he and numerous other officers had responded to the call for backup because there were “six unruly [expletive, N-word]” at the hotel, authorities said.

Nucera, according to his rank-and-file officers, regularly used racial slurs, and once compared black people to ISIS and said they should be mowed down.

Much of the case against Nucera centered on the 81 recordings secretly made by Roohr, a K-9 officer. Roohr said he became increasingly alarmed by the hostility Nucera demonstrated against blacks.

Authorities have said that at least half of the officers in the 25-member police department recorded Nucera. Experts said it was unusual for officers to break the “blue wall of silence.”

Defense attorney Rocco Cipparone contends that the officers disliked Nucera because of his tough disciplinary policies and wanted to get rid of him as chief. Nucera resigned in January 2017 after learning the FBI was investigating him.

A second officer, Sgt. Salvatore Guido, implicated Nucera in the assault at the Ramada. Guido was one of the first officers to respond to a call from the hotel’s manager that Stroye and his girlfriend were swimming in the pool and had not paid their bill.

The jury on Thursday requested a transcript of Guido’s testimony. In a December 2016 interview with the FBI, Guido initially said he did not witness the alleged assault. Later that day, Guido said he saw Nucera strike Stroye.

“He used to refer to them as ’you people.' ‘You people should stay out of our town. You people don’t come back here again,’” Guido testified last week.

Neither Nucera nor Stroye testified.