The jurors who acquitted Dr. Mario Jascalevich of murder have made their finding of his innocence more emphatic with their unusual letter to New Jersey authorities demanding that he be given back his medical license.
The foreman of the jury, Antoinette Mazzei, said today the decision to write the letter came around three weeks ago when about seven of the jurors met at her house "and decided to do something" because of their frustration that Jascalevich was still barred from practicing medicine.
She said the jurors had become friendly during the eight-month-long murder trial and had kept in touch since it ended six weeks ago. Only the jurors were present at her house when the letter was decided upon, she said.
The Jascalevich trial touched off a widely discussed legal fight over a reporter's right to keep his notes confidential when New York Times reporter Myron Farber refused the trial judge's order to turn notes over for his inspection. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against Farber and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review its decision.
"To our knowledge, no jury has ever spoken out, or had to speak out, for a man proven innocent," said the jurors' letter.
"It's not that we found his guilt not proven, but that we were convinced he was innocent," it added.
The letter, dated Dec. 6, was addressed to Dr. Edwin Albano, president of the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners.
Albano said today he had not yet received it and so could not comment. The letter had been received, however, by some of the 18 news organizations to whom copies were mailed, as well as other state officials.
The Board of Medical Examiners has charged Jascalevich with six counts of malpractice relating to the deaths at Riverdell Hospital in Oradell, N.J., that were the subject of the criminal indictment against the surgeon.
It also charged him with six counts unrelated to Riverdell Hospital. These charges of malpractice, fraud and neglect involve patients at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where Jascalevich practiced years later. The board suspended its proceedings during the criminal trial, but new hearings are expected within weeks.
Anthony LaBue, a deputy state attorney general who is counsel to the board, said he had not seen the letter. "Nor would I consider it a development," he added.
Mazzei said the letter was circulated to the jurors who did not attend the meeting at her house. Only one, Christina Kelly, did not sign, but she was out of town and gave her approval, Mazzei said.
"This could happen to any one of us," Mazzei said of Jascalevich's troubles, "and we would want someone to help us out."
She said that what she had read of the Jersey City charges against the doctor didn't convince her that they were serious enough to cost him his license. "Other doctors have had malpractice charges and haven't lost their licenses," she said.
Another juror, Eli Baar, said today, "If the reason for holding up the license is the indictments we considered, I don't think it's fair. If there's something else, that's beyond my knowledge." Baar was one of those to whom the letter was circulated. "I read it. I agreed with it and I signed it," he said.
The wife of juror Edward Clarke said her husband was stunned that the letter was sent to news organizations and that he was fed up with the case and didn't want to discuss it. "He thought it was just a letter to the medical examiner, not all of this," she said.
Jascalevich and his attorney Raymond A. Brown could not be reached for comment. Brown was sent a copy of the letter. An associate in his office replied "no comment" when asked whether Jascalevich was contemplating filing a suit against the New York Times, Farber or anyone involved in the case.
In addition to the news organizations and Brown, copies went to New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne, Attorney General John Degnan, Bergen County Superior Court Judge William Arnold, who presided at the Jascalevich trial, and Bergen Superior Court Assignment Judge Theodore Trautwein.