Editor’s note: Since publication, Duenas has deleted the Reddit thread and has deleted his account.
Juror No. 4 has captured the attention of Kathryn Knott’s defense team.
His name is Ari Duenas, a public school physical education teacher living with his wife and son in Philadelphia’s Brewerytown neighborhood. An Army veteran who loves soccer, he’s a seasoned mixed martial arts fighter.
But the part of Duenas’ life that’s now being pored over by Knott’s attorneys is the 33-year-old’s activity on Reddit, the news and networking site.
“I’m a Redditer, so I’m always on there anyway,” Duenas said recently. “There were a lot of comments on there about the trial, some of them were kind of crazy.”
He’s commented 8,042 times on Reddit under the username nedthedragonslayer.
Last week, Duenas and 11 other jurors convicted the Bucks County woman of simple assault, reckless endangerment and simple assault in the group beating of two gay men in Center City last September. The jury acquitted Knott of the felony count of aggravated assault.
But Duenas’ comments on media coverage of the trial have raised the question of whether he may have violated the court’s instruction that jurors stay away from media accounts until a verdict was reached.
Hoping to rein in what he saw as crazy Reddit theories about the case, Duenas over the weekend took to his favorite Web forum to set the record straight with an AMA thread, or an ask-me-anything, a freewheeling Q&A feature on the site.
“I was juror #4 on the Kathryn Knott trial, AMA!” Duenas called the thread, where he elaborated on the occasionally testy mood of the jury room — “There were points where we were flat out yelling at each other” — described what he thought of at least one of his fellow panelists— “the idiot juror”— and characterized the jury verdict as a “huge compromise.”
Generally, courts are reluctant to accept mistrial motions — or overturn verdicts — based on what jurors say after the fact, said University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky.
“There are rules of evidence that prohibit a juror from testifying as to what went on during deliberations, which might show misconduct,” Rudovsky said.
Except, Rudovsky said, if a juror is accused of taking a bribe, being threatened or said to have been influenced by an outside source.
“The media, I noticed, made a lot of generalizations and assumptions of guilt,” Duenas said on the Reddit thread. “When you’re forced to sit and try to piece it all together fairly, with no bias, it becomes difficult.”
Looking for grounds to fuel an appeal
Reading, watching or listening to coverage of the case during the trial is a violation of court instructions and could amount to a finding of being on contempt of court, thus triggering mistrial motions from Knott’s defense team.
Knott’s defense attorney, Louis Busico, said it would be a “tough row to hoe” to win a mistrial appeal based one ambiguous Web comment, but it was certainly something, among many other possible approaches, he’s now examining.
After the statement was pointed out to him, Duenas wrote a disclaimer on the top of the Reddit thread clarifying his remarks.
“I didn’t speak to anyone about it, not even my wife,” Duenas wrote. “I mostly just occupy my time with work, soccer, and my son, I guess I’m a little out of the loop.”
As far as Duenas knows, none of the jurors were reading or watching anything about the case during the trial, which surprised him.
“I was expecting someone to say, ‘Hey, I read about this,’ but that never happened,” Duenas said. “I think people were trying to treat this case with respect because there was so much attention on it.”
Kathryn Knott’s attorney Louis Busico says he sees cause for a mistrial in juror Ari Duenas’s Reddit comments. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
But those explanations didn’t stop someone who works for defense attorney Busico from messaging Duenas on Facebook. The law firm representative wrote that Busico could tell that Duenas was a fighter, adding that Busico has done Brazilian jiu jitsu for six years. But Duenas found the message “creepy,” telling the law firm rep that he’s not comfortable talking to Busico.
What social media activity implies about character and possible motive in a future crime was one controversial element of the Knott trial. Prosecutors fought for the inclusion of Knott’s years-old tweets to be admitted as evidence to help establish to the jury that the young woman had homophobic predilections.
The judge allowed it, and, in the prosecution’s opening and closing statements, those tweets using the hashtags “dyke” and “gay” were pointed to as a reminder of what the commonwealth said was Knott’s deep-seated hate.
Now, however, Knott’s legal team has an opportunity to make sport of a juror’s unfiltered Internet past.
“If I thought that the juror disclosed information that would show his or her own misconduct, or misconduct of other jurors,” Busico said, “I’d certainty look into it.”
No. 4 contends he didn’t consult coverage until after verdict
It’s not the first time Duenas has discussed his disappointment with the jury’s verdict. He was among three other jurors who fielded media interviews the day of the decision. Then, and on the Reddit thread, he said two jurors resisted convicting Knott of the more serious charge of aggravated assault, based on their feeling for her, rather than witness testimony and other evidence.
At one point, Duenas says, a juror said: “I don’t care if she did it, I don’t feel right sending her to jail.”
Knott’s sentencing date is set for Feb. 8, and sentencing guidelines call for probation, though prosecutors say she could face some time behind bars.
“They kept comparing the case to things that had happened to their family, or get emotional about their own lives, but it had nothing to do with evidence,” Duenas said of the two jurors who irritated him. “They kept ignoring evidence, that was the biggest struggle.”
Duenas, for his part, denies ever accessing any media about the trial while it was happening. He said he spent 20 minutes reading articles about the trial in the courthouse after the verdict was reached, something he said the judge signed off on.
That, he said, was the first time he read anything about Kathryn Knott outside of the courtroom.
“I wanted to go into it fresh,” Duenas said. “If I read an article online, or something, then I got something in my head that I couldn’t get out, that wouldn’t be fair. I’d be wasting taxpayer money.”