NUECES COUNTY, Texas — A Nueces County District Judge has recused herself from the punishment phase of a murder trial after allegations she and others watched the jury deliberate before last week's verdict.
According to the Nueces County District Attorney's Office, Judge Inna Klein and her staff watched the deliberations, which are supposed to be secret. No one is allowed in the room when jurors are deliberating.
But during deliberations in the Derek Parra murder trial, Nueces County Assistant District Attorney Angelica Hernandez said the judge and her staff watched the deliberations live on camera -- without sound.
Parra was found not guilty of murder and aggravated assault in the 2019 killing of Austin resident Joe Trevino. He pleaded guilty to a charge of a felon in possession of a firearm.
The jurors were deliberating in the courtroom rather than the jury room because of COVID-19 distancing requirements. Hernandez said Klein and others -- including the prosecutor and defense attorney -- watched them on the judge's courtroom video camera.
"We have confirmed it. Our office has confirmed it through our assistant district attorneys who were present while it was happening," Hernandez said. "The broadcasting of visual jury deliberations is just a violation of the most fundamental aspect of our criminal judicial system, which requires secrecy. The jury is supposed to be protected."
3News attempted to get in contact with Judge Klein for comment but she has not yet responded. She did speak about the matter Monday morning in court while issuing the continuance.
"Unfortunately some technical issues have come up where I'm going to reset this case to this Wednesday," Klein said.
On Monday morning, the District Attorney's Office filed a number of motions for continuance, including motions for the judge to recuse herself from the punishment phase of the trial. Klein did agree to that on Monday.
Defense attorneys responded to the State's motion for recusal by claiming that the District Attorney's Office knew about the camera footage for six days and never said anything about it until Monday morning. They also stated that they know of no one who violated the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
Hernandez said she has contacted the State Bar of Texas' Ethics Division about the jury spying claims, as well as the Judicial Commission. The Nueces County Sheriff's Department has also been asked to investigate for possible criminal charges.
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