BOSTON – A man convicted of involuntary manslaughter should get a new trial because two jurors at his original trial slept during testimony, the highest court in Massachusetts said in a decision released Thursday.
In addition, the judge in the 2011 trial of Anthony Villalobos erred by failing to question the jurors about what they had missed after the prosecutor spotted them napping, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
"A judicial observation that a juror is asleep, or a judge's receipt of reliable information to that effect, requires prompt judicial intervention," the decision said. "In the circumstances of this case, the judge's response to the prosecutor's reports leaves us with serious doubt that the defendant received the fair trial to which he is constitutionally entitled."
Villalobos also asked that the charges be dismissed entirely based on lack of evidence, but the court ruled against that request.
Villalobos, of Revere, was one of a dozen men charged in what was called the "tuxedo killing." The suspects, some wearing black tuxedos with red vests, went to a Boston club in August 2009 after attending a funeral for a friend.
A fight broke out between them and another group of men outside the club at closing time.
Jose Alicea, 22, of Boston, was found lying on the sidewalk with severe head injuries. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he died two days later.
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to retry Villalobos, a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney said.
"The SJC's conclusion is disappointing and frustrating," the office said in a statement.
"Mr. Alicea's family now pays the price as a conviction is reversed on speculation, even as the high court notes that it was supported by the evidence," the statement said.
Villalobos was originally charged with murder but was convicted of the lesser offense and sentenced to four to five years in prison. He already has been released.