Auburn officer’s murder trial shook up after jurors allegedly break rule

Jun 26, 2024, 1:11 PM | Updated: 4:30 pm

Photo: Auburn Officer Jeff Nelson in midst of his murder trial....

Auburn Officer Jeff Nelson in midst of his murder trial. (Photo courtesy KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy KIRO 7)

There has been a shakeup in the murder trial of Auburn Police Department Officer Jeff Nelson.

Two jurors are accused of improperly discussing the case outside the chamber where deliberations were supposed to be happening. Two King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office employees said they overhead the jurors’ conversation. The employees then testified in court on Wednesday.

“Her words were that the photos that we looked at yesterday … she referenced someone being an attractive clean-cut man, she appeared to be talking about the content of the photos,” one of the employees said.

What would have been a simple decision to excuse the two jurors and replace them with two alternates is complicated by the fact that the two jurors in question were part of a unanimous decision on one count.

“If they’re not following this rule, what impact that can have on their ability to sit as jurors, as the court is concerned whether or not they’re following other rules,” a prosecutor said.

While the court was discussing the matter, KIRO Newsradio learned the jury had reached a unanimous decision Tuesday on one of two counts — either the second-degree murder charge or the assault charge. KIRO Newsradio does not know which, or why the prosecution and defense weren’t notified of that decision.

The question in the courtroom became: should the court question the two jurors and possibly excuse them from the panel, replacing them with two alternates, or reiterate jury instructions and allow deliberations to continue. The defense made its position very clear.

“I still take the position that we should not inquire of these jurors, especially after they have rendered a verdict,” Nelson’s attorney said. “Now the court is in a position where inquiring of jurors and trying to decide if they committed misconduct when the court was aware of one of their verdicts. That is dangerous ground to stand on.”

Judge Nicole Gaines Phelps asked the jury foreperson if he believed the jurors could still reach a unanimous verdict on both charges. His answer was “Yes.”

Nelson is accused of murdering Jessey Sarey in 2019. Sarey was reportedly going through a crisis outside of an Auburn shopping area when Nelson was called to arrest him. Nelson reported that Sarey did not comply with his demands, leading to a physical fight where Nelson was seen on video punching Sarey in the head and upper body.

Previous coverage: Auburn Officer Jeff Nelson’s fate now in hands of jury

Nelson then drew his gun and shot Sarey in the torso, after he fell onto the pavement, Nelson tried to shoot again when his gun jammed. Nelson then racked another bullet and shot Sarey in the head.

If no verdict is reached Wednesday, deliberations will continue first thing Thursday morning.

Contributing: Julia Dallas, MyNorthwest

James Lynch is a reporter at KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of James’ stories here. Follow James on X, or email him here.

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