Bell mistrial: 'Prosecutors on steroids,' defense says
When former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announced the arrests of eight Bell city officials, he called it a case of "corruption on steroids."
On Thursday, after a jury deadlocked on 42 remaining counts and Judge Kathleen Kennedy declared a mistrial, defense attorney Stanley Friedman called it a case of "prosecutors on steroids -- criminally charging nice people for the acts of Mr. Rizzo."
The jury said it was leaning 9 to 3 in favor of guilt on the remaining charges.
Kennedy released them one day after they brought back a partial verdict, and after a final day of deliberations devolved into infighting.
"It seems to me all hell has broken loose," Kennedy said Thursday afternoon. "I'm getting the sense that the lines of communication have broken down between each and every one of you."
Kennedy made the statement after jurors sent notes asking her to admonish them to "remain respectful" and not make false accusations and insults. Earlier in the day, a juror had also asked to reconsider the guilty verdict from Wednesday.
Five ex-council members -- Oscar Hernandez, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal and Victor Bello -- were convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds. A sixth councilman, Luis Artiga, was acquitted on each of the 12 charges he faced.
"I feel great," Friedman said. "America was against my client and now we've shown the case was not like what people said it was."
After the jury was dismissed, family members of the ex-council members gathered in the hallway. They hugged, cried and congratulated one another.
"I appreciate the three jurors who thought we should be acquitted," Mirabal said. He described the last few years as "an ordeal."
Some defense attorneys were already talking about appeals.
Defense attorney Shepard Kopp said he believes Wednesday's guilty verdicts were not finalized and that the judge could have allowed further deliberation.
The jury's conduct is "tremendous legal grounds for a motion for a new trial," Kopp said.
Ron Kaye, the defense attorney for George Cole, said that the notes reflected "coercion and intimidation."
One juror who was dismissed during the deliberations -- as well as two additional jurors -- expressed concerns about deliberations.
"At the end of the day, there is evidence of coercion," Kaye said. "We are disappointed with a guilty verdict."
District attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said it was too early to say whether prosecutors would retry the case on the 42 deadlocked charges.
-- Richard Winton, Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb
Top photo: Five former Bell City Council members were found guilty Wednesday of stealing public money by paying themselves extraordinary salaries in one of Los Angeles County's poorest cities. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.
Bottom photo: Bell Defense Attorneys from left Ronald Kaye, Alex Kessel and Leo Moriarty at a press confrenece following the mistrial. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times