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Bell trial: Do lengthy jury deliberations mean deadlock is likely?

March 13, 2013 |  9:14 am

Bell residents and other trial watchers may have thought the corruption case against six former city officials was a slam dunk, but for jurors weighing their fate, the case has turned out to be far less clear-cut.

Over the last 2-1/2 weeks, they have struggled to reach a verdict that would answer the basic question: Could those salaries — which approached $100,000 — be excessive and still be legal?

Based on their questions and testimony read-backs, the jury appears to be debating the legality of those paychecks. At one point, the jury asked for a copy of the state Constitution as well as clarifications of California law on compensation for elected officials.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Two weeks ago, the jury said it was deadlocked and had "fundamental disagreements." The judge removed one juror from the case for alleged misconduct and asked that the panel restart deliberations.

Residents in Bell, many of whom became community activists in the wake of the corruption scandal, are becoming increasingly anxious.

"They have all the evidence in the world, and it's clear as daylight, like a sunny day, that they are guilty," said Jose Moreno, a 62-year-old retired warehouse foreman. "The fact that the jury hasn't reached a verdict is just outrageous."

"The prosecutor put it all right there on the table," added resident Alex Paredes, 66, who once worked alongside Cole at a local steel mill and attended part of the trial.

"I thought it was going to be easy for those jurors," he said. "I don't know what's going on."

Other jurors said they believe the jury is simply deliberating carefully.

Some jury experts said lengthy deliberations tend to bode well for defendants. They said the Bell case is particularly complex, with piles of documents, weeks of testimony and six defendants.

Another wild card is former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, who is most associated with the scandal. The defense has argued that he manipulated the council into taking the salaries. He and Spaccia face a separate trial later this year.

"I would assume that what is happening is they're going through each separate defendant with his or her particular count," said jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who worked on the O.J. Simpson and McMartin preschool cases. "When they go through it in that very analytical way, it does take a long time, and there may be points of contention between the jurors."

The general rule of thumb when it comes to deliberations tends to be one day for every week of testimony, said veteran defense attorney Paul Wallin. Anything longer, he said, is a strong sign of a hung jury or at least a deadlock on some counts.

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-- Corina Knoll

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