More than 12 years after Avtar Grewal allegedly killed his wife and fled to India, 63 potential jurors packed into a small courtroom on West Jefferson Street. Monday's jury selection marked the start of Grewal's long-awaited trial following his extradition from India and years of back-and-forth motions, status conferences, and hearings delaying the case.
It also marked the beginning of another months-long, high-profile murder case for Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez, who has been the subject of at least seven bar complaints in the past four years. Many of the complaints involve Martinez's actions during the trial of Jodi Arias, who was convicted of the first-degree murder of her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in May 2013.
This past March, the State Bar of Arizona filed a misconduct complaint against Martinez alleging that the infamous prosecutor had committed seriously unethical behavior during the Arias trial and repeatedly sexually harassed so many young female interns that they hid in bathrooms to avoid running into him.
According to the complaint, Martinez began a sexual relationship with a blogger who was writing about the Arias case, then used her to dig up information on a juror who was preventing Arias from receiving the death penalty. Martinez wanted to find "information that might disqualify her from continuing the deliberation," according to the Bar complaint. Once he figured out who the holdout juror was, he tried to get her dismissed from the case so he could get Arias sentenced to death, but failed.
Martinez is also accused of striking up a relationship with a juror who was dismissed from the case and using her to get a "read" on how two other jurors may be leaning in the case. When questioned about his actions at a deposition, the Bar complaint states, Martinez lied.
In April, four lawmakers and 18 local, state, and national organizations signed onto a letter sent to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery demanding he resign for the way he has handled Martinez's repeated misconduct.
"We are now, finally, in the midst of national reckoning over the ways in which powerful men have harmed women by disregarding their talent and skill and work ethic and reducing them to objects of sexual gratification," the letter states. "Yet Bill Montgomery, holding a position of extraordinary public trust, has refused to be part of the solution, of the reckoning that has touched nearly every industry in America. Instead, his tolerance of gross misconduct makes him part of the problem. He must resign."
Montgomery responded to the letter with a five-page rebuttal saying that he has investigated and addressed the sexual misconduct allegations surrounding Martinez. Montgomery said that after the investigation, Martinez was disciplined with a written reprimand and mandatory training for sexually harassing his female coworkers.
In the courtroom on Monday, Martinez sat alongside Phoenix detective Michelle Cervantes across the aisle from a haggard and balding Grewal and his two public defenders. Though Grewal is currently being detained in Maricopa County's Lower Buckeye Jail and has been in the custody of one police agency or another since 2007, he arrived at court wearing a black sweater and gray slacks.
On March 30, 2007, Grewal allegedly brutally murdered his wife, 30-year-old Navneet Kaur, at her home in Phoenix. Grewal's arranged marriage with Kaur was a strained one. According to detectives, Kaur's friends said she was scared of Grewal and that though the couple lived apart (Grewal lived in Canada), he tried to control her every move. When she tried to file for divorce, he flew down to Phoenix and allegedly stabbed, suffocated, bludgeoned, and drowned her, then tried to kill himself, but failed.
The dozens of potential jurors filed into the room for the first day of what is expected to be a three-month-long trial. Jurors will be called back again this Thursday to continue the selection process, then won't be due back in court until the trial officially begins on June 3.
Of the 63 potential jurors, two were immediately eliminated because they said they could not fluently understand or speak English. When Judge Dean Fink asked who is unable to serve due to pre-existing travel arrangements, health issues, being a dependent's primary caregiver, or other serious conflicts, nearly every hand in the room shot up.
Fink instead asked for those who are sure they can serve to raise their hand, leaving only 15 available jurors. They were asked to exit with the bailiff and fill out a questionnaire for further assessment. Ultimately, the court must find eight people to serve on Grewal's jury.
Fink questioned the remaining jurors one by one, assessing the validity of their claims of being unable to serve. Many had prior travel arrangements, which was difficult to avoid given that the trial is expected to last practically the entire summer. Some had health conditions, dependents, school, or businesses that prevented them from showing up to court every day for three months.
In the end, another 44 jurors were dismissed for legitimate conflicts, while two jurors — one who misunderstood the initial question and said he actually was available to serve, and one who clearly did not want to serve, but would make more money serving on a lengthy trial than he would in his truck-driving business — were asked to proceed with the questionnaire. (Arizona has a lengthy jury trial fund that allows jurors to be reimbursed up to $300 a day for any trial that lasts over six days.)
Most remaining jurors were white men; at least four of the potential 17 were men of color. On Thursday, both the defense and prosecution will likely question the remaining potential jurors and attempt to eliminate certain jurors in order to make the jury as favorable as possible for their case.
Grewal has pleaded not guilty. Martinez sought the death penalty in the case, but in 2016, Judge Dean Fink ruled under seal that the death penalty be dropped.
Since Grewal was extradited to the United States, his attorneys have argued that prosecutors violated his constitutional rights when federal agents seized three binders of documents and turned them over to the detectives and prosecutors on the case.
“The state is in possession of two sets of privileged documents, three binders compiled by the defendant for use by his attorney in preparation for trial, and three typed pages … that were compiled for the defendant for his divorce lawyer,” Grewal's attorneys argued.
His attorneys have also alleged that Grewal is not competent to stand trial. Though a prior judge refused their request to transfer Grewal to a psychiatric hospital in Mesa, it appears Grewal's alleged mental health problems did play a role in the current judge, Judge Fink's, decision to drop the death penalty. Grewal did file a rambling, incoherent pro se lawsuit from prison alleging that his attorneys weren't helping him, that he was losing his mind, and that he's being denied his right to practice his religion, which he says is the only thing that keeps him sane.
Grewal sat stone-faced throughout most of the proceedings, with his eyes cast downward, except when his two defense attorneys and Martinez were called to approach the bench and confer about jurors. On those occasions, Grewal stared at his attorneys' backs and tapped one hand on the other. Whatever Martinez, Fink, and Grewal's public defenders were discussing could not be heard by the rest of the courtroom, as Fink switched on a white-noise machine whenever he needed counsel to approach.
As Grewal's case proceeds, so do the State Bar complaints against Martinez.
In 2016, the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee recommended that Martinez be placed on one year's probation for his unethical behavior. But Martinez asked for a disciplinary hearing, in which deliberations reportedly lasted all of one minute before the charges were dismissed.
Besides allegedly manipulating a woman into helping him remove a juror from the Arias trial so he could get her sentenced to death, Martinez is also accused of sexually harassing his female coworkers with comments like "I'd like to see what's inside that skirt," and telling an intern he "wanted to climb her like a statue." Martinez has also been accused of comparing the actions of a Jewish defense attorney to those of Adolf Hitler, asking jurors to imagine how they would feel to be murdered by defendants, and introducing false evidence.
Martinez was disciplined in 2018 by the Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office, but documents related to the investigations of Martinez's misconduct were sealed at Montgomery's request.
The latest bar complaint, filed on March 1, 2019, is still ongoing. If a panel finds Martinez violated the standards of professional conduct, Martinez could be reprimanded, suspended, or disbarred.
Correction: This story initially stated that Bill Montgomery had not specified what Martinez was disciplined for or what the discipline was. This story has been updated to reflect the fact that four lawmakers and 18 groups sent Bill Montgomery a letter demanding his resignation over his handling of Martinez's misconduct, and that when Montgomery responded to that letter, he said Martinez had been given a written reprimand and mandatory training for sexually harassing coworkers.
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