Current Weather
The Spy FM

When The Jury Becomes The Story

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
May 31, 2012

They were called the “giggle gang” — four alternate jurors in the John Edwards trial who wore the same-colored shirt to court on several days.

During nine days of deliberations, much attention was given to the merry band of alternates in the high-profile campaign finance case.

On Thursday, attention swung back to the jury itself, which found Edwards not guilty on one count. The judge declared a mistrial on the other five charges.

In the days before the verdict, reports that a young alternate juror had been flashing smiles at Edwards — the former North Carolina senator who was on trial for actions related to trying to hide his pregnant mistress during a presidential campaign — ricocheted far beyond the courtroom in Greensboro, N.C.

Hank Asbill has been a defense lawyer for 35 years — long enough to remember when Roy Black, the prominent attorney defending William Kennedy Smith in 1991 on rape charges met and later married a member of that jury.

But Asbill says the color-coded T-shirts worn by the Edwards jury alternates represented something new under the sun.

“I’ve never seen this kind of conduct by alternates,” says Asbill. “I think that that’s unusual and strange. It’s also unusual for alternates to be around the courthouse.”

And despite the relatively benign showmanship of the Edwards alternates, there is actually considerable precedent for shenanigans in the jury pool at U.S. trials.

When Alternates Get Bored

Usually, a judge will let alternates go about their daily lives during deliberations and call them back to court if one of the regular jurors gets sick or drops out, Asbill says. And that’s what finally happened Wednesday, when the trial judge in the Edwards case let them go home, on standby.

Asbill thinks those alternates were acting out because they just got bored.

After all, jurors are only human. In high-profile cases, the microscope on jurors can magnify lots of spots — even ones that aren’t really there.

Take the case of Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco. Back in 2004, he was on trial for looting the company to pay for shower curtains, umbrella stands and a $2 million birthday bacchanal for his wife.

Austin Campriello was a defense lawyer in the case.

“There came a point in time where the jury was being excused, and one of the jurors … was walking across the courtroom to go to the exit, and the prosecutors believed that they saw her give the defense table an ‘OK’ sign,” says Campriello.

Newspaper reporters identified the elderly juror and dubbed her the “holdout granny.” Campriello says Kozlowski’s legal team didn’t see it that way.

“We don’t think she was sending us a message. We think she was flipping back her hair,” says Campriello.

Whatever the case, the juror eventually told the judge she got threatening mail. So the judge declared a mistrial, after nearly six months, and the case had to start all over again, with a new jury.

Trial By Twitter

Trials have ended in disgrace lately because jurors are emailing, tweeting or otherwise social networking.

Earlier this year, a Florida man got three days in lockup for friending a female defendant on Facebook after he was called to serve on her jury.

Former prosecutor Steve Cohen remembers he was flummoxed by a more old-school kind of jury communication. After a long wait for a verdict in a triple homicide case, Cohen says, came this disconcerting development:

“We got a note from the foreperson. And the note said, ‘Would it be possible for us to render a verdict and then the court hold the defendant and his family in the courtroom for one-half hour?’ ” says Cohen.

The judge followed up and learned that several jurors used the same New York subway route as the defendant’s family.

“And it turned out they wanted a head start so that they could get home after they rendered a verdict. At that point, we knew they were voting guilty,” says Cohen.

So, does the former prosecutor see that as a lesson of not reading too much into jury notes before we know what’s going on?

“I take from that, that my ability to guess anything when it comes to a jury is nonexistent,” says Cohen. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center