A 45-year-old West Palm Beach man, who claimed he was lovestruck, was sentenced to eight days in jail on Thursday for flouting court rules while serving on a jury that in January convicted a man of first-degree murder in connection with a 2007 robbery at Three Amigos market west of Boynton Beach.
After giving Philip Elliott a fiery lecture at the conclusion of a two-hour hearing, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx found that he violated jury rules by looking up the definition of words during the trial of Victor Salastier Diaz and by encouraging another juror to lie that other violations occurred in hopes of overturning the verdict.
“You maligned the dignity of this court,” Marx said before ordering deputies to handcuff Elliott and take him to jail. “You showed a complete and total disregard for the judicial system.”
Marx emphasized the expense of trying Diaz for the murder of 70-year-old retired baker Samuel Salomon, a bystander who was caught in the crossfire that erupted after the robbery, and the pain the trial caused the families of both Salomon and Diaz, who was handed a life sentence.
Elliott claimed he was trying to woo fellow juror Samantha Scalpi, 26, in a series of Facebook messages they exchanged after the trial. “I had a crush on Samantha,” he said, adding that he may have been intoxicated when some of them were sent. “I said a lot of b.s. stuff.”
Scalpi was distraught after the verdict, claiming she felt she had been bullied by other jurors to convict Diaz, Elliott said. “I said whatever she wanted to hear,” he testified.
Marx said she didn’t care about Elliott’s romantic intentions. She pointed to Facebook exchanges where Elliott encouraged Scalpi to claim that jurors discussed the case during the trial. He also told her to say Elliott was friends with Marx’s husband, fellow Circuit Judge Joseph Marx, and to report that jurors looked up information about Diaz’s co-defendants.
“I told everybody during deliberations that I knew the judge and the judge husband was a friendly, and a customer,” Elliott, who is manager of the Palm Beach Bicycle Trail Shop in Palm Beach, wrote in one of the Facebook messages to Scalpi. He sent Scalpi a photo of Diaz taped to a bicycle that he claimed Krista Marx had brought into the shop for repairs. As in other exchanges, he punctuated it with “Lol.”
Elliott testified Thursday that all of the claims in the Facebook messages were false. He said he did call Joseph Marx after the verdict for advice on how Scalpi could report that she felt intimidated by other jurors. Joseph Marx told him she was suffering “juror’s remorse,” a common feeling among those who decide serious cases, Elliott said.
But Elliott testified Thursday that he wasn’t friends with Joseph Marx. He said that after Diaz’s trial began he realized he’d sold the judge a bike four years ago. “I was trying to get (Scalpi’s) attention,” he testified about his various claims of jury misconduct.
Marx cleared Elliott of tainting the jury process by talking about the case during the trial or by falsely telling other jurors about his cozy relationship with her husband. But, she said, telling Scalpi that she should speciously claim such breaches occurred was a serious violation of jury conduct.
Further, she said, Elliott admitted he looked up the meaning of the phrase “immediate scene,” during the trial despite repeatedly being told that jurors were barred from doing any independent research.
Elliott claimed he is dyslexic and simply wanted to understand the terms so he could weigh the evidence against Diaz.
“I don’t know if you know what the word truth means,” Marx said. “Perhaps you should look that up in your dictionary.”
Attorney Adam Farkas, who represented Elliott, said he could appeal Marx’s decision. But, he said, by the time an appeal could be heard, Elliott would be out of jail.
Attorney Joseph Walsh, who represents Diaz, said he is weighing whether to again ask Marx to throw out the verdict. Marx has rejected one request to toss the verdict because of alleged jury misconduct.
Diaz, 27, who also goes by the last name Estevez, is one of seven men accused in the death of Salomon, who was shot and killed when one of the Three Amigos robbers fired at the grocery store owner during a chase. Four others are serving life sentences and another, who testified against them, is serving an 18-year sentence. One who was arrested in Spain last year is awaiting trial.
Diaz in 2010 was convicted of armed robbery and burglary charges. Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the murder charge, setting the stage for January’s trial.
As for Elliott, he is on a short list of Palm Beach County jurors who have been convicted of misconduct. He joins Dennis DeMartin, a former Boynton Beach retiree, who received the maximum sentence — five months and 29 days — for conducting a drinking experiment while serving on a 2012 jury in Wellington polo mogul John Goodman’s DUI manslaughter trial.
DeMartin’s experiment and other lapses caused the guilty verdict to be thrown out. Goodman was convicted at a second trial and given a 16-year sentence. DeMartin is appealing his conviction.