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Judge declares mistrial in hate crime case of ex-Bordentown Township police chief after jury is deadlocked

U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler granted a request by defense attorney Rocco Cipparone seeking a mistrial.

File: Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. (left) with his attorney Rocco Cipparone, during his first trial.
File: Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. (left) with his attorney Rocco Cipparone, during his first trial.Read moreTyger Williams

A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the hate crime retrial of former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. because the jury said it was deadlocked after deliberating for more than 16 hours over 3 days.

It was the second time U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler granted the request for a mistrial by Nucera’s attorney, Rocco Cipparone. Prosecutors didn’t object.

”The question is: Where do you go from here?” Kugler asked the attorneys.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber declined comment on whether Nucera will face a third trial. Nucera, surrounded by family as he left the courtroom, declined comment as well. He remains free pending a decision by prosecutors on their next steps.

”I don’t think there should be a third trial,” Cipparone told reporters. “I always thought there was reasonable doubt.”

Nucera, 64, had been charged with federal hate crimes and deprivation of civil rights in connection with the slamming of a handcuffed Black teenager into a door in 2016. If convicted, Nucera could have faced up to 10 years in prison.

“It was a difficult decision,” said a juror who asked not to be identified. He said the group questioned whether “the push” actually happened — Nucera was accused of knocking Timothy Stroye’s head into a door jamb — but noted that deliberations were respectful with no animus, unlike the first trial when jurors were bitterly divided along racial lines. The man did not disclose how the panel of 11 white people and one Black person was split.

Kugler declared a mistrial in Nucera’s first trial, in October 2019, after the jury at that time found him guilty of lying to the FBI but deadlocked on the other charges. Cipparone appealed Nucera’s conviction, arguing in part that white jurors alleged they were pressured by Black jurors to reach a verdict and they gave in to “white guilt.” The jury for Nucera’s first trial had nine white and three Black jurors.

Kugler sentenced Nucera in May to 28 months in prison for lying to the FBI but allowed him to remain free pending the retrial. If the remaining charges are dropped, Nucera will have to surrender to begin serving that sentence.

Said Cipparone: “At some point, enough is enough. For my client, this has been five years of significant stress.”

Nucera, a 34-year veteran of the force in the predominantly white community of 11,000 just south of Trenton, “held a deep animosity toward African Americans,” Lorber told jurors.

He acted on his hatred on Sept. 1, 2016, she said, when he attacked Stroye, 18, while arresting him at a Bordentown Ramada Inn after Stroye was accused of not paying for his room. Stroye died earlier this year.

In a 2017 interview with The Inquirer, Stroye recounted his encounter with Nucera and the officers. Two had their hands on their guns, he said, though neither drew their weapon. Stroye also told police that he couldn’t identify the person who struck him. He said he recalled hearing someone say “chief” during the incident.

Prosecutors said Nucera, had “a significant history” of making racist comments about Black people, spoke about joining a firing squad to kill them, and used police dogs to intimidate Black spectators at high school basketball games.

“I’m f-ing tired of them, man. I’ll tell you want, it’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of those [N words],” Nucera said in a recording made by one of the officers who testified against him.

“What the defense wants, ladies and gentlemen, they want you to ignore that testimony,” Lorber told jurors in her closing statement Monday. “They want you to think that it’s just no big deal that not one, but two, police officers admit to the FBI and then got up on the witness stand and told all of you what they saw their chief do to a young, African American, handcuffed detainee.”

Cipparone argued that the two officers who testified against Nucera are liars who have not been charged for crimes they’ve committed in exchange for testimony. One attacked the victim and implicated Nucera, he said.

Before their deadlock Wednesday, the jury asked for transcripts of testimony from the two officers. The panel, some solemn-faced with their heads bowed, returned to the courtroom and told Kugler it was at an impasse. The judge asked the jurors to return to the deliberation room and reconsider if they could reach a verdict. Seven minutes later, Kugler read their answer in court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Gribko whispered to FBI Agent Vernon Addison, one of the lead investigators: “It’s so disappointing..”