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Foreman ordered off shooting jury after admitting family link to defendant

The jury foreman was dismissed on the penultimate day of the Southside cinema attempted murder trial after admitting a family connection to defendant Jahmel Blakeney.

He was ordered to stand down yesterday after victim Renee Kuchler's father approached police alleging a relationship between him and the defendant's father, Families Minister Glenn Blakeney, which could influence the course of justice.

Glenn Blakeney, who was present in court during most of the two-week trial, faced questions on the stand about his connection to a sports club of which the foreman was president some years ago. The foreman also took the stand, and confirmed he's a relative of another of Mr Blakeney's sons.

Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves pointed out this means he's also a relative of Jahmel Blakeney, and relieved the foreman of his duties.

The news could not be reported until after the verdict today.

During the legal discussions, the Minister stressed he didn't know the foreman well, and said his links with his former sports club are minimal.

But the judge insisted the foreman must play no further part in the trial, telling him there was a perception of injustice as he's related to the defendant.

Both Jahmel Blakeney and co accused Sanchey Grant were found guilty this afternoon of attempted murder.

Leopold Kuchler, Renee's father and a former Progressive Labour Party candidate, took the stand on Monday morning, in the absence of the jury.

He told the judge he had visited the foreman's workplace to investigate whether there's a relationship between the Minister and the foreman.

He claimed it was a “well-known fact” that the pair are very close.

Mr Kuchler said he finally realised the foreman was connected to the defendant's father last Friday.

“When you sit in the public viewing area, thoughts go through your mind,” he said.

“You cannot get away from when you look at the jury and you think very, very hard, where do you know these people from? Eventually it sparks an idea.

“All of a sudden, everything comes together, you realise, yes you know this person.”

When he took the stand, Glenn Blakeney denied the assertion that he has ever been a member of the sports club.

“The only time I would have been at the club would have been not this year, maybe once last year,” he said, On his alleged relationship with the foreman, Mr Blakeney said: “I met him for the first time a year ago as a result of my Ministerial responsibilities.”

He said he had a conversation with him regarding a work-related matter at that time but had not spoken since.

When the foreman was asked about his relationship with the Minister, he said: “I know the Minister. I think he could be a distant relative.

“He could be because Mr Blakeney's other son Glenn, who plays cricket, I know he's a relative of mine and I know him personally.”

Dismissing the foreman from the jury, Mr Justice Greaves said: “He believes that he may be related to the defendant.

“It's the kind of thing that caused Mr Kuchler to believe that she [his daughter] might not be getting a fair shake on this case. Mr [Shaki] Minors might think that he's not getting a fair shake.

“The public may look on and think that this is not a trial or juror that may conduct himself in the manner you would expect. That information alone is sufficient reason for him to stand down.

“We are not questioning your sincerity, not to think that you will be unfair to one side or the other.”

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Published November 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm (Updated November 22, 2011 at 5:46 pm)

Foreman ordered off shooting jury after admitting family link to defendant

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