Bell trial: Juror wants to reconsider guilty verdicts, note says
An anonymous juror in the Bell corruption trial sent a note to the judge Thursday morning saying he or she wanted to rethink the guilty verdicts the panel handed down the day before.
"Your honor after you asked us yesterday to go back into the deliberation room, I had time to think until now," the note began.
The development comes a day after the jury delivered verdicts of both guilty and not guilty for the so-called Bell 6, former City Council members accused of stealing public money through bloated salaries. But hours after the verdicts were read, the jurors sent five notes to the judge, raising questions about the deliberations.
In Thursday's note, a juror cited the pressure and stress of the deliberation process as his or her reason to rethink the vote on the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority.
[Updated at 10:25 a.m., March 21: "I have been debating in my own mind that due to the pressure and stress of the deliberation process, the jury may have given an improper verdict of guilty on the Solid Waste Authority," the juror wrote to Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy. "It is better to be certain beyond a reasonable doubt to give a verdict of guilty than send someone innocent to prosecution. If possible, I request to remain anonymous."
The juror requested more information or evidence on Edward Lee, a former city attorney for Bell.
It was not clear if the note was from a different juror than No. 7, who sent a similar note on Wednesday.
Defense attorney Alex Kessel asked to find out who the juror was and demanded further inquiry.
"Are we dealing with multiple jurors who believe there is possible pressure going on?" he asked.
Judge Kathleen Kennedy denied the request.
Later, Kessel raised the issue again and brought up the juror who after less than one week of deliberations was dismissed for misconduct. Kessel said she too had mentioned pressure and coercion.
The defense attorneys asked if the bailiff could find out and have the judge seal the identification of that juror. In the end, Kennedy said she would find out herself.]
On Wednesday, ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez, and ex-council members George Cole, Victor Bello, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were convicted on multiple felony counts related to money they received for sitting on the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority. But they were acquitted on charges related to their pay from the Public Finance Authority.
The sixth defendant, former Councilman Luis Artiga, was acquitted of all the charges he faced.When the jury said Wednesday it was undecided on charges related to the Community Housing and Surplus Property authorities, four jurors told Kennedy additional information about state laws might help the panel reach a verdict.
Kennedy dismissed the group for lunch. When court was back in session Wednesday, the drama continued when five notes were submitted to the judge.
In a cryptic note, Juror No. 7 told Kennedy he had misgivings about the deliberations, saying he "questioned myself on information that had me on a [doubt] of thing [sic] that were not presented properly."
Defense attorney Ron Kaye, who represents former Councilman George Cole, told the judge the juror's note suggested he might have been persuaded to vote a certain way. But Kennedy rejected the lawyer's request to talk to the juror.
“That's done, we're not going to reopen verdicts that have been reached,” Kennedy said.
In another note, Juror No. 10 said that she believes the jury is "getting away from your instructions" and possibly misunderstanding a law on "several levels." Defense attorney Stanley Friedman, who represents Hernandez, said the comments raised the possibility of jury misconduct.
Legal expert Dimitry Gorin, a criminal defense attorney, said Wednesday the late developments in the Bell trial and verdicts are out of the ordinary.
“Questions from the jury as a collective aren’t unusual, but individual questions are rare and what is happening here is highly unusual and unique,” Gorin said.
What will happen to the convicted ex-council members remains unclear.
Legal expert Troy Slaten, a criminal defense attorney, said the council members are not required to be jailed. They could instead be put on probation and perform community service.
The jury did not reach a decision on the special allegations that the defendants took property exceeding $65,000 and $100,000.
Hernandez's attorney Friedman said the verdicts so far give the defendants a chance at probation. If they are convicted of the special allegations, it would be harder for a judge to give them probation, Friedman said.
"So we are hoping for probation but we will obviously appeal," Friedman said.
— Corina Knoll, Ruben Vives, Richard Winton and Kate Mather