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Lawmaker seeks harsher penalties for jury tampering

Reported by: John Treanor

Posted by: Vincent Hernandez
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Updated: 7/19 2:13 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- A pimp found guilty: a big win for prosecutors and police, but that conviction almost didn't happen because of jury intimidation.

In the courthouse hallway, jurors and witnesses shared the same space.

News 3's John Treanor looked into that design flaw, and presented how one lawmaker wants harsher penalties for jury tampering.

Despite his friends and associates doing everything they could to stop the legal proceedings against Ocean Fleming, the trial for the accused kidnapping pimp continued. After seven days, Fleming was found guilty.

"It was huge,” said Las Vegas Metro officer Sgt. Dan Hoier. “He was a big-time player and it was huge for us to get him finally and get him convicted. It was a huge win.”

It was a big win that almost didn't happen. One of Fleming’s associates, Antonio Woods, targeted jurors and took photos of them in the courthouse hallway in an attempt to scare them out of the trial.

A mistrial would have been a big win for Fleming. It would have given him more time to do what police suspected him of doing – getting rid of witnesses.

In the courtroom, jurors, suspects, victims, witnesses, are all separated. However, during every break, everyone just pours into the hallway. They share benches and overhear conversations. "Attorneys talking to witnesses, family of someone involved, victims or defendants, all of those things can be influential on a jury," said District Court Judge Doug Herndon.

Herndon points out that the building’s design is the problem. Most courthouses have jury deliberation rooms which serve as a place for jurors to go during break and be away from any outside influence.

But here in Clark County, the juror room is shared by several courts and there's just not enough room.

If anyone demonstrated the potential problems a hallway mixer could bring, it was Antonio Woods.

But if presence is one problem, punishment is another. Woods was arrested after his photo session, but not for the pictures. He was arrested for assaulting an undercover officer in the hallway. There was no punishment for the taking the photos.

In Nevada, jury tampering is a gross misdemeanor. The punishment is less than a year in prison.

"This is the first time I have ever had this happen,” said Clark County Deputy District Attorney Noreen DeMonte. “I was disgusted and appalled. I had to go digging for something to charge him with and when I found it, I was disgusted that it was only a gross [misdemeanor].”

DeMonte wants changes, and Nevada Assemblyman Wes Duncan is planning on making some.

The freshman state lawmaker is writing legislation to toughen the rules and make jury intimidation a felony carrying the possibility of six years behind bars.

"If you’re feeling uncomfortable, intimidated, that’s a situation that we want to avoid and that’s something I want to address at the legislature," Duncan says.

Duncan’s bill is scheduled to be introduced in the 2015 session.

Fleming is appealing his original guilty verdict. That appeal stands before the Nevada Supreme Court.

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