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Prosecutors Investigate Possible Jury Misconduct in Dance Coach Trial

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Viktor Kabaniaev in a still frame from the 2012 dance documentary 'First Position.' The prolific ballet coach is accused of 14 counts related to sex crimes against minors. (Bess Kargman)

Contra Costa County prosecutors say they are investigating possible juror misconduct that may have led to a mistrial in a high-profile sexual assault case involving a Bay Area dance instructor.

The Contra Costa County district attorney’s office says one of the jurors may have had preconceived notions about the facts in the trial of Viktor Kabaniaev before hearing any of the evidence, and discussed their feelings outside the courtroom with other potential jurors.

The highly-respected ballet coach is accused of 14 acts of sexual assault against at least two of his female students, who were children at the time. The case will undergo a retrial in Contra Costa County Superior Court since the previous jury was unable to reach a verdict last week.

“The right for a criminal trial to be decided by an impartial jury is fundamental to our democracy, and essential for any victims hoping to seek justice,” said Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office spokesman, Scott Alonso. “If a juror brings their own personal bias or speculative beliefs into the jury box, it can taint the case and the potential for a just outcome.”

Kabaniaev’s defense attorney, Kenneth Wine, said the case was not a close one; the previous jury was ultimately evenly divided in its verdict. He said the prosecution should show more respect for jurors’ vote.

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“Each juror deserves their vote to be counted and respected,” Wine said. “The D.A. should tread lightly, lest they appear to be threatening jurors who disagree with them. To do so strikes at the core of our jury system.”

The next court date for Kabaniaev’s retrial is set for Nov. 22.

 

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