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Bell trial: Jury's late notes throw verdicts into question, chaos

Hours after delivering a mixed verdict in the corruption trial of six Bell council members, a Los Angeles jury sent several questions to the judge that ended the day on a chaotic note and raised questions about whether they were unanimous in their verdicts.

The jury convicted five of six former council members of stealing from the working-class city of Bell after 18 days of deliberations – longer than the trial itself. The jury remains undecided on nearly half the counts.

The judge ordered the jury to return to court Thursday, though it remains unclear if the panel will continue to deliberate on the undecided charges.

CHEAT SHEET: Bell corruption verdicts

The jury returned to court after a lunch break because four of them indicated that more information might help them reach verdicts in the undecided counts.

Jurors were allowed to send questions to the judge. In a note, Juror No. 7 told Judge Kathleen Kennedy that he had misgivings about the deliberations.

The cryptic note said that the juror "questioned myself on information that had me on a [doubt] of thing [sic] that were not presented properly."

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Defense attorney Ron Kaye, who represents former councilman George Cole, told the judge that the juror's note suggested he might have been persudaded to vote a certain way.

"Our ultimate goal is to reach the truth," Kaye said. "Can we separate Juror No. 7, ask him to discuss what he meant and if it was in fact his verdict? These [defendants] deserve to have an honest deliberation. I would ask that we be permitted to inquire." 

But Kennedy said she did not interpret the note from Juror No. 7 that way.

“That's done, we're not going to reopen verdicts that have been reached,” Kennedy said.

Defense attorney Stanley Friedman, who represents former mayor Oscar Hernandez, raised questions about a second note from a different juror.

Juror No. 10's note said that she believes the jury is "getting away from your instructions" and possibly misunderstanding a law on "several levels."

Friedman said the note raises the possibility of jury misconduct.

The verdicts were decidedly mixed, with the jury returning guilty verdicts and acquittals in even measure. One councilman, a pastor in the small city, was acquitted on all charges, offering a prayer as the verdicts rolled in.

The jurors handed Kennedy several questions after lunch, but she postponed further discussion about continued deliberations. The jury was ordered to return Thursday at 9 a.m.

The jury told Kennedy that the vote was 9 to 3 on the remaining counts, but did not indicate whether they were leaning toward guilty or not guilty.

"We are in receipt of your questions, but we are not ready to respond to you quite yet," Kennedy said before sending them home.

City officials In Bell said the verdicts signified a "long-awaited day of justice" to the city's residents, according to a statement Wednesday.

But Mayor Ali Saleh said the working-class community was waiting to see how the rest of the case would play out. Former City Administrator Robert Rizzo -- whose $800,000-a-year salary sparked the scandal -- and his former assistant Angela Spaccia, who earned nearly $400,000 annually, will both stand trial at a later date.

"While today's guilty ruling for five of the Bell Six helps bring some closure and justice to our community, there are still trial cases which remain pending — the trials of those remaining assailants that in my view plundered our city's resources and shackled Bell's hardworking families with an overwhelming tax burden," Saleh said in a statement.

ALSO:

Bell trial: Robert Rizzo now the focus

Bell verdict: Convicted council members may avoid jail

Victim in fake Rockefeller murder trial died from blows to head

-- Richard Winton and Ruben Vives

 
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