New London murder trial delayed by juror issues

The first day of testimony in the murder trial of Shaquan Lee-Seales was postponed until Friday after two jurors brought issues involving the case to the court's attention.

Lee-Seales, 23, of New London is charged with fatally shooting Gilberto Olivencia on Grand Street on Dec. 10, 2015. He has pleaded not guilty and opted for a jury trial, which was set to begin Thursday in New London Superior Court before a jury of 12 regular members and four alternates.

Lee-Seales, who has remained incarcerated since his arrest in June 2016, sat at the defense table in a business suit with members of his family behind him in the gallery. Olivencia's survivors sat on the other side of the courtroom. After a tense one and a half hour delay, during which attorneys and judges were discussing the latest developments in the judge's chambers, both sides learned that testimony wouldn't start until Friday.

One of the jurors, a teacher at a local school, informed a court officer that students had made statements to her about the case. Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed said the parties had decided the woman should be dismissed from the jury "in an abundance of caution and to avoid putting anyone in an uncomfortable situation."

The judge entered a related document into evidence under seal, and called the woman into the courtroom to dismiss her and ask her if she had anything to add about the incident. The woman said no. She also said she had not discussed the situation with other jurors.

"Obviously it's a unique situation, and we appreciate your willingness to serve," the judge told her.

Also Thursday, an alternate juror who had been selected to serve on Wednesday notified the jury clerk that he would be uncomfortable convicting somebody based on circumstantial evidence. He had been asked about circumstantial evidence during jury selection, and said he "slept on it and was uneasy with it."

He, too, was brought into the courtroom and questioned. A retired Electric Boat employee, the man was just one of two African-Americans on the jury panel. Lee-Seales is black.

Prosecutor Thomas M. DeLillo and defense attorney Sebastian O. DeSantis questioned him at length about the concepts of direct evidence and circumstantial evidence, which would require jurors to make inferences. The man said he understood the concept but was not comfortable with using it when sitting in judgment and determining someone's fate.

"For me to be comfortable with that, I would need something more than theory," the juror said.

Lee-Seales' mother clapped in the gallery to show her approval of the man's statements and was told by a marshal to be quiet.

The state asked that the man be removed from the jury based on his responses, and he, too, was dismissed. The attorneys decided the trial could go ahead with 12 regular jurors and two alternates.

The case is expected to hinge in part on the testimony of eyewitnesses to the crime. According to New London police, shortly before 11 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2015, Lee-Seales got out of a car and fired multiple shots toward Olivencia and several others following an earlier encounter on State Pier Road, where Lee-Seales allegedly had assaulted and robbed a 17-year-old drug dealer who "disrespected" him.

k.florin@theday.com

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