WASHINGTON - The juror in the Prince William County murder trial swore to the judge that she had not bought any newspapers. The defense attorney swore that she had.
Then came the videotape.
The attorney produced a surveillance tape from a 7-Eleven in Old Town Manassas showing juror Lindy L. Heaster buying a copy of The Washington Post and the Potomac News -- and the juror suddenly became the accused.
Circuit Court Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. threw out a murder conviction against Gerardo N. Lara Sr., the man Heaster had helped convict of killing his estranged wife. Alston found Heaster in contempt of court this week and indicated that she could be forced to pay the cost of the five-day trial. And yesterday, prosecutors said they are considering perjury charges against Heaster.
It has not been determined whether Heaster violated the judge's order to avoid media coverage of the trial, but it is clear that her purchase of the newspapers will cost her dearly, officials said yesterday. The judge also hinted at possible jail time, said Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert.
"Very likely, we'll consider perjury," said Ebert, who is waiting to see what the judge does before making a decision. "This has happened before, where jurors have not obeyed the court's instruction. It's costly and very frustrating. It's an affront to the entire process."
Exact figures were not available yesterday, but Robert L. Marsh, the court administrator, was under judge's orders to break down the cost of securing the jury. That alone cost $900. The jurors who were selected for the trial were paid $30 a day. Then there's the cost of the interpreters who attended the trial at a cost of $6 an hour over five days.
Marsh said it appears that Heaster also will be required to pay defense costs, which lawyers estimate at $25,000. Prosecutors say more bills from their office could follow, including lodging expenses incurred by the victim's five relatives who flew from Mexico City to attend the trial. Alston could order Heaster to spend 10 days in jail and pay a $250 fine for the contempt-of-court charge. She will be sentenced July 1. Lara will be retried, prosecutors said.
A chance encounter
It all began by chance at a 7-Eleven in Old Town Manassas near Grant Avenue and Church Street shortly after 8 a.m. April 15, the day of the verdict.
In fact, defense attorney Jon E. Shields would never have even seen Heaster at the store that morning had he not been going to buy some newspapers himself. And there was no question about it. Even from a distance, Shields knew a newspaper when he saw one -- two, actually -- and he knew who was holding them.
Shields immediately went to the court, before jurors began their second day of deliberations, and requested a mistrial. But Heaster swore under oath that she had bought only a cup of coffee, and the judge denied Shields's request. Shortly thereafter, Lara was convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing of his wife, Marissa Lara, whose body was found in her car under a sleeping bag in the District.
After the jury found the defendant guilty and recommended a 40-year prison term, the defense attorney did just what came naturally: He went searching for evidence to bolster his case. He returned to the scene of the offense.
This week, store officials produced a receipt for the 74-cent purchase and a surveillance tape that clearly showed Heaster buying the newspapers.
This time, Alston threw the book at Heaster.
As is done at most murder trials, Alston asked jurors whether they had heeded his admonishment not to read or watch coverage of the trial. Each time, jurors said they had complied.
So seeing Heaster leaving the 7-Eleven with the newspapers was jarring, Shields said. Phone calls to Heaster and her attorney, Amy M. Ashworth, were not returned yesterday.
Another juror, Susan Crouch, 23, said yesterday that she was surprised at the consequences of Heaster's actions.
"There was such a carefulness among everyone there," Crouch said. "People even commented that they prayed the night before [the verdict]. Everyone took it to heart."
But so did Shields, seeing his client led away in handcuffs. He said he felt that Lara had been cheated out of a fair trial.