Follow that juror!

Producer at WPVI-TV Philadelphia says station made him do it

A producer for ABC's WPVI-TV Philadelphia called the judge in a sensational local murder trial to tell her he had been forced by his station to follow a juror—in what the producer understood to be a violation of the judge's order.

"I was asked by my superiors to follow a juror home," said WPVI-TV producer Henry Veguilla, according to a transcript of the tape, which Judge Linda Baxter played in open court. "I said I did not want to do it," Veguilla told the judge. "However, my boss pressed on. ... Finally, the news director at my station threatened me, used verbally abusive language. ... I was very nervous ... and I followed the juror home in a news van."

News Director Carla Carpenter did not return calls at press time, but General Manager David Davis issued a statement saying, "I have called Judge Baxter and extended an apology to her office for any problem we may have caused and to assure her that we respect the court's order and were attempting to comply with the guidelines, as we understood them. We did not contact, approach or attempt to speak with any juror."

In a trial that has made national headlines, a 12-member jury had deadlocked on the murder, felony murder and conspiracy charges against Rabbi Fred Neulander, accused of hiring a hit man to kill his wife for $30,000 in 1994. Given the trial's high profile, competition among media to determine the jury's mindset has been intense, local journalists acknowledge.

Judge Baxter had said during the trial and again following her declaration of a mistrial that jurors are not to speak with journalists.

Local media protested the order, and several sued, raising constitutional issues. WPVI-TV has not joined any such legal effort, the station said. Baxter has denied media motions to lift her order and cited the producer's actions as an example of what she sought to prevent. Local media outlets are considering appealing Baxter's rulings.

A week before she received the call from Veguilla, Baxter scolded in court Philadelphia
magazine writer Carol Saline, who has also been providing some unpaid trial commentary to WCAU(TV) there, for approaching a juror.

Veguilla could not be reached at home or at work, where sources say he has several weeks to go at the station as part of a Disney minority-hiring and training program.