A federal judge in Manhattan on Friday ordered a new trial for Gigi Jordan, who was convicted of killing her 8-year-old autistic son after mounting a novel defense based on her belief that her first husband would murder her and her second would victimize the boy after her death.
Ms. Jordan was convicted in 2014 of manslaughter and sentenced in 2015 to 18 years in prison after a trial that dragged on for years and became tabloid fodder. Now she may well go free because a prosecutor asked for, and a judge granted, a closed-door hearing during her trial.
The facts of Ms. Jordan’s case are not in dispute. She admitted poisoning her son, Jude Mirra, in 2010 by giving him a lethal dose of medication in a luxury hotel room in Midtown Manhattan.
But Ms. Jordan, a wealthy medical entrepreneur, said that she had done so only because she thought that her first husband would kill her and that her son would wind up in the custody of his father, her second husband, whom she suspected of sexually abusing him. Both men strongly denied the accusations.
After five days of deliberations, the jury accepted Ms. Jordan’s “extreme emotional disturbance” defense, a strategy usually reserved for murders committed at the height of passion, and found her guilty of manslaughter instead of murder. She has since been serving her sentence, first on Rikers Island and later at a women’s prison in Bedford Hills, N.Y.
But an unusual episode during the trial may result in Ms. Jordan’s release. On Oct. 1, 2014, an assistant district attorney, Matthew Bogdanos, asked Judge Charles H. Solomon to close the courtroom for an off-the-record discussion.
Ronald Kuby, a member of Ms. Jordan’s defense team, objected repeatedly, citing the First and Sixth Amendments, but Judge Solomon granted Mr. Bogdanos’s request.
Mr. Bogdanos wanted to discuss online material that he argued could influence the jury, including a website created by Ms. Jordan that accused Judge Solomon and others of excluding crucial evidence from the trial. Mr. Bogdanos asked Judge Solomon to instruct the jury, who had been told repeatedly not to consume media about the trial, to avoid looking at internet content related to it.
According to Friday’s opinion by the federal judge, Sarah L. Cave, Judge Solomon ordered that the content they had discussed and the minutes of their closed meeting be placed under seal; later that day, Judge Solomon unsealed the material and the minutes and said that the order sealing the hearing might have been “an erroneous ruling.”
The episode formed the basis for Ms. Jordan’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, on the grounds that the court had violated her Sixth Amendment right to a “speedy and public” trial.
Judge Cave granted Ms. Jordan’s petition. Ms. Jordan must be released from prison unless the Manhattan district attorney’s office informs the court that it has decided to retry her.
Danny Frost, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said it would appeal Judge Cave’s decision and would retry Ms. Jordan if necessary. “Our office strenuously disagrees with the ruling of the Magistrate Judge, which misapprehends the applicable law,” Mr. Frost wrote in an email.
Judge Cave’s decision overruled both the trial judge and a state appellate panel’s findings that the closed proceeding was not a full-fledged hearing but was similar to a sidebar or a discussion in the judge’s chambers.
Judge Cave disagreed.
“In Jordan’s case, under clearly established Supreme Court precedent, the Sixth Amendment public trial right applied to the closed proceeding, and the appellate division’s holding that it did not was an unreasonable application of the precedent,” Judge Cave wrote.
Mr. Kuby, who was one of several lawyers who represented Ms. Jordan at trial but who was not involved in her petition in federal court, said on Friday that “there is a sense of personal vindication that those principles of an open and public trial, that I was risking contempt over,” were reaffirmed.
“This is the problem when judges give prosecutors everything they want,” Mr. Kuby added. “Sometimes what a prosecutor wants isn’t good for them, sort of like too much candy.”