CAMDEN — Jurors will continue deliberations Friday in the federal hate crimes trial of former Bordentown Township police chief Frank Nucera, Jr. after spending nearly seven hours Thursday on the two remaining charges in front of them.
The panel found Nucera guilty of lying to the FBI on Wednesday, and returned Thursday to continue its deliberations on charges of hate-crime assault and deprivation of civil rights. On Tuesday, jurors told the judge they were deadlocked, but agreed to continue working to try to reach a unanimous verdict.
Around 4:15 p.m. Thursday, the jury told the judge they wanted to return Friday to continue deliberations.
Nucera, who retired from the force and from his job as township administrator in 2017, is accused of assaulting a handcuffed, 18-year-old Black man at the top of a hotel stairwell on Sept. 1, 2016. Authorities allege he slammed the head of Timothy Stroye, of Trenton, into a metal door jamb.
Federal prosecutors alleged the assault was motivated by deep “racial animus” and used secretly recorded conversations of the chief to argue their case. The defense acknowledged the racist language on the tapes was “ugly,” but it argued there was no assault and therefore no crime.
Nucera is believed to be the first chief in over a decade to be tried on a federal hate crime charge.
Jurors must weigh whether there was an assault to render a verdict on that charge, and whether the tapes, where Nucera is captured making racists comments and threats, prove it was motivated by the alleged victim’s race.
Jurors heard one racist rant where the ex-chief said he could “shoot” Black people and said they should “stay out of Bordentown.” In one recording, he said, “Donald Trump is the last hope for white people.”
On Thursday, Bordentown Township Mayor Stephen Benowitz issued a statement on the guilty verdict.
“The township respects the legal process and the outcome of the trial. Bordentown Township is focused on moving forward and continuing to provide the best possible public services to all of our residents, businesses and visitors,” Benowitz said, adding there will be no further statement at this time.
Defense attorney Rocco Cipparone said Nucera was not happy with the guilty verdict, but took “it with grace.”
Jurors deliberated for over 36 hours before delivering the guilty verdict, and for nearly 45 hours by the end of the day Thursday. Deliberations began Oct. 2.
The panel reviewed testimony transcripts from seven of the nine witnesses called to the stand and rewatched video from inside of the Bordentown Township police station that shows Stroye discussing his arrest with a cellmate. On Thursday, they did not ask for any other transcripts or testimony and did not send any notes with questions to the judge.
Nucera faces up to five years in prison for the conviction on lying to the FBI. He could also permanently lose his six-figure pension.
According to New Jersey Department of Treasury spokesman William Skaggs, once the trial is complete the future of Nucera’s $106,000 annual pension will be a matter scheduled before the New Jersey Police and Firemen’s Retirement System Board.
Board members “will then decide whether to forfeit any of his pension service credit of salary,” Skaggs said in a statement to reporters Thursday. The board meets once a month.
New Jersey law stipulates that the state may forfeit or reduce the pension of any public employee who is convicted of certain crimes related to their employment, including any “official misconduct” that renders the public service “dishonorable.”
Among the 11 factors the board is required to weigh are the employee’s length of service, duties, employment and service, and the nature of the misconduct or crime, including the “gravity or substantiality of the offense,” whether it was a single or isolated incident or continuous, and the employee’s motives or reasons.
Nucera will be sentenced on Feb. 6, and will remain out of custody. Cipparone said he could get less time under sentencing guidelines.
Over the course of the trial, jurors watched a nearly hour-long interview between Nucera and FBI Special Agents Arthur Durrant and Vernon Addison at the Petro Stopping Center truck stop in December 2016. Durrant secretly video-recorded Nucera recount the incident with Stroye at the Ramada Inn.
Nucera did not take the stand at trial, but jurors heard his interview with the FBI where he denied the incident with Stroye, who also did not testify. In the interview, Nucera told the special agents that he did not touch Stroye the night he was arrested.
“Nope ... Nope, I didn’t go hands on, didn’t touch anybody, didn’t spray anybody,” he tells the agents.
Jurors also heard audio from a handful of the 81 recordings Roohr made of conversations he had with Nucera and other officers, including a conversation shortly after Stroye’s arrest where Nucera’s racism was on full display.
“I’m (expletive) tired of them man. I’ll tell you what, it’s gonna get to the point where I can shoot one of these (racial slur),” Nucera was heard saying after the arrest.