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Second juror in New Hampshire youth center abuse trial explains verdict, says state misinterpreted

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — One of the jurors who awarded a New Hampshire man $38 million a historic lawsuit about abuse at the state’s juvenile detention center says the state is misinterpreting the verdict by limiting the payment to $475,000.

Jurors on Friday awarded $18 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in aggravated damages David Meehan, who alleged that the state’s negligence caused him to be repeatedly raped, beaten and held in solitary confinement at the Youth Development Center in Manchester as a teenager. But the attorney general’s office said the award would be reduced under a state law that allows plaintiffs against the state to recover up to $475,000 per “incident.”

Jurors were not informed of the cap. When asked on a verdict form how many incidents they thought Meehan had proven, they wrote “one.” The completed form does not indicate whether they found a single instance of abuse or grouped together all of Meehan’s allegations, but one of the jurors emailed Meehan’s attorney on Sunday to explain their reasoning.

“We wrote on our verdict form that there was 1 incident/injury, being complex PTSD, as a result of over 100 injuries (sexual, physical, emotional abuse),” the juror wrote, according to court documents filed Sunday by the attorneys for Meehan were submitted. “We were never informed that a limit was placed per abuse incident and that is the wrong way the question was formulated to us.

“The state is making its own interpretation of the ruling we made, and it is not right for them to take our position,” the juror wrote. “David should be entitled to what we awarded him, which is $38 million.”

Meehan’s lawyers have asked the judge in the case to hold an emergency hearing on the case on Monday and have brought in former Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks to help argue their case.

Attorneys for the state had not responded to the request for a hearing as of Sunday evening, and Michael Garrity, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment other than to point to Friday’s statement about the cap.

In their motion, Meehan’s attorneys say the juror’s email statement and other statements from the jury foreman confirm that the jurors misunderstood the verdict form. The lawyers said the finding of only one proven “incident” is “conclusively against the weight of the evidence” and logically inconsistent with the damages awarded.

In such circumstances, the court “not only has broad discretion, but is in fact obliged to take corrective action,” they wrote. The lawyers cited previous cases in which judges questioned juries and then ordered them to reconsider their verdicts.

The jury foreman emailed one of Meehan’s lawyers Rus Rilee said within hours of the verdict: “I am absolutely devastated.” The next morning, the foreman sent a message to attorney David Vicinanzo saying, “My guilt kept me up most of the night.”

“I literally felt sick and was moved to tears in fear of the mistake we had made. I still am,” the juror wrote.

Meehan, 42, went to police in 2017 and sued the state three years later. Since then, 11 former state workers have been arrested and more than 1,100 other former residents of the Youth Development Center have filed lawsuits alleging physical, sexual and emotional abuse over six decades.

Meehan’s lawsuit was the first to go to trial. For four weeks, Meehan’s lawyers argued that the state was encouraging a culture of abuse, characterized by pervasive cruelty,corruption and a code of silence.

The state argued that it was not liable for the conduct of rogue employees and that Meehan had waited too long to file a lawsuit. On Meehan’s cross-examinationLawyers for the state portrayed him as a violent child who caused problems at the youth center — and as a delusional adult who exaggerated or lied to get money.

The case highlighted an unusual dynamic in which the attorney general’s office both defends the state against the civil lawsuits and prosecutes suspected perpetrators in the criminal cases.