Sununu criticized for saying ‘the Fallen Seven did not receive justice’

  • Volodymyr Zhukovskyy of West Springfield, Mass., gestures as the not guilty verdict is read while standing with his attorney, Steve Mirkin, at Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster, N.H., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. The commercial truck driver was charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of seven motorcycle club members in a 2019 crash in Randolph, N.H. (David Lane/The Union Leader, Pool via AP) David Lane

  • Josh Morin, a member of the Jarheads motorcycle club who was injured in the 2019 Randolph, N.H., crash, and a companion leave the courthouse after the not guilty verdict for Volodymyr Zhukovskyy of West Springfield, Mass., was read at Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster, N.H., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Zhukovskyy was charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of seven motorcycle club members in a 2019 crash in Randolph, N.H. He was found not guilty on all charges. (David... David Lane

  • People upset with the not guilty verdict comfort each other while gathered outside following the trial of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy of West Springfield, Mass., at Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster, N.H., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. The commercial truck driver was charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of seven motorcycle club members in a 2019 crash in Randolph, N.H. (David Lane/The Union Leader via AP, Pool) David Lane

  • People upset with the not guilty verdict gather outside following the trial of Volodymyr Zhukovskyy at Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster. David Lane / The Union Leader

  • Volodymyr Zhukovskyy of West Springfield, Mass., departs in the back of a Coos County Sheriff's Department pick-up truck in custody following the not guilty verdict at Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster, N.H., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. The commercial truck driver was charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of seven motorcycle club members in a 2019 crash in Randolph, N.H. (David Lane/The Union Leader, Pool via AP) David Lane

Associated Press
Published: 8/10/2022 11:10:52 AM

New Hampshire lawyers are denouncing comments made by Gov. Chris Sununu and his attorney general after a jury acquitted a truck driver in the deaths of seven motorcyclists, but both men said Wednesday they stand by their statements.

After a two-week trial, North Country jurors deliberated for less than three hours Tuesday before finding Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 26, innocent on seven counts of manslaughter, seven counts of negligent homicide and one count of reckless conduct. The charges stemmed from a June 21, 2019, crash in Randolph that killed seven members of the Jarheads Motorcycle Club from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Prosecutors argued that Zhukovskyy — who had taken heroin, fentanyl and cocaine earlier on the day of the crash — repeatedly swerved back and forth before the collision and told police he caused it. But a judge dismissed eight charges related to whether he was impaired, and his attorneys blamed the lead biker, Albert “Woody” Mazza Jr., saying he was drunk and not looking where he was going when he lost control of his motorcycle and slid in front of Zhukovskyy’s truck.

After the verdict, Sununu said he shared in the “shock, outrage, and anger that so many have expressed” since the crash.

“The Fallen Seven did not receive justice today, and that is an absolute tragedy,” he said.

Attorney General John Formella said he believed the state proved its case.

“Mr. Zhukovskyy should have been found guilty of the charges in this case and held responsible for causing seven deaths and numerous injuries,” he said. “We thank the Court and the jurors for their service, and while we are extremely disappointed, we respect the verdict and our system of justice.”

The New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense lawyers said Formella’s comments violated professional standards and that both statements criticizing the verdict could deter future jury service.

“These statements are irresponsible, dangerous, disrespectful to the jurors and damaging to the integrity of the criminal legal system,” the group said in a statement. “They are also contrary to rules designed to protect the rights of the accused and protect jurors from undue influence and harassment.”

According to those rules, prosecutors should avoid comments that criticize the jury’s actions or verdict and should “respectfully accept acquittals.”

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, had similar concerns.

“These standards are vital, as they help ensure that future juries are independent without undue pressure from prosecutors that could influence their decisions,” Bissonnette said in a statement. “The constitutional right to a jury of one’s peers is a bedrock part of the American criminal justice system, and the work a jury does should not be criticized by prosecutors simply because of disagreement with a verdict in a high-profile case.”

Formella’s spokesman, Michael Garrity, pointed to the last sentence of the attorney general’s statement when asked for a response, while Sununu’s spokesman said the governor stands by his comments.

But critics said their comments could cause problems for future trials.

“Must our jurors fear public excoriation by the governor and chief law enforcement officer if they find (as jurors did here) that the State failed to meet its burden?” the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said. “That our Governor would so loudly put his thumb on the scale is an abuse of his platform and his office. Agree or disagree, the jury here did its job and their decision deserves respect rather than public condemnation.”




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