09:30 PM PDT on Friday, May 28, 2010Jurors who had just convicted a gang member of murdering a 16-year-old boy were confronted outside the Riverside courthouse Thursday by the defendant`s angry relatives, who shouted threats and punched one juror, sheriff`s officials said.
Two family members and a friend of the defendant were arrested. The juror who was hit, a 47-year-old man, did not require medical attention.
Thomas Cahraman, presiding judge of Riverside County Superior Court, said Friday that the attack is under investigation and that juror security will be stepped up.
He said people should not be fearful about serving as jurors. The judge said he could not recall another physical confrontation between jurors and a defendant`s family in his 33 years at the court.Story continues below
"The fact that it`s rare does not take away from the fact that it happened, and we`ll be devoting resources to see it never happens again," Cahraman said.
The jurors had found Andres Mu?±oz guilty of first-degree murder for the 2006 shooting of Derek Ochoa, 16, in a case involving gang rivalry in Riverside`s La Sierra neighborhood.
Before the verdict was read Thursday morning, Mu?±oz`s mother became too distraught and was asked to leave the courtroom, said Jeff Van Wagenen, Mu?±oz`s attorney.
After the verdict, deputies kept the jury inside the courthouse in downtown Riverside another 30 to 45 minutes to allow Mu?±oz`s family time to leave the area. A deputy escorted them to the elevator.
Mom, sister arrested
Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco said Mu?±oz`s family members were "lying in wait" near the jury parking lot. Officials said the family started yelling threats to all 12 jurors and Mu?±oz`s mother punched one juror.
"In retrospect," Cahraman said, "it may have been better for law enforcement to escort them outdoors."
It`s obvious that the Judge is very shocked that something like this has happened in his courtroom—it`s totally beyond his understanding. But I can explain. There is a country where conduct like this is not unheard of. It`s actually only 150 miles south of Riverside, and it`s called Mexico.