Posted by: Pablo Pereira, Meteorologist / Reporter / Web Producer - bio | email
Posted by: Jeffrey Thomas DeSocio, Digital News Editor / Producer - email
Los Angeles, CA -
Take Note of The Notes!
The number of notes sent from jurors to the judge during last two days of Bell trial
What a fascinating and educating day in court today as the first Bell corruption trial came to an unexpected and rarely seen end.
This jury of 12 of our peers - and yes, I said ours - gave us Guilty, Not-Guilty AND a We-Can't-Decide all in one trial.
And now everyone is climbing on the bash-the-jury-bandwagon.
But hold on and consider this. By being brutally honest and saying, "You know, we simply can't come to a decision on several of these charges", isn't that what justice is all about? Honesty and playing fair; doing our best, the precise things the Bell 6 were accused of not being or doing?
It wasn't a simple case to begin with. You have both the California State Constitution AND the City of Bell Charter to consider, amongst many other laws and legalities; 6 defendants; a myriad of really complex charges, facts and figures; Solid Waste, Housing and other municipal boards with their own ordinances and resolutions and a whole lot of finger pointing and blame.
It wasn't easy, I will give them that. And it's not like they volunteered to figure it all out. They were doing their civic duty, remember? The civic duty you really have no choice but to do? Yeah, that one.
So, now what?
The big question is, was that first note from the anonymous juror that alluded to "pressure and stress" a sign of juror misconduct behind closed doors? Were some jurors pressured into voting guilty, when they didn't want to?
Defense lawyers need to know. We all need to know.
And hopefully jurors will speak out even though they have no legal obligation to. If we find out what happened during the last three plus weeks of deliberations, it might give us some interesting insight for future reference.
It will also help justice be served.
With jurors saying they were hopelessly deadlocked and tensions running high in the deliberation room, a mistrial was declared today on remaining charges against five former Bell elected officials already convicted of misappropriating public funds by collecting exorbitant salaries.
The mistrial declaration by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy capped a final day of deliberations that included a series of jury notes that grew increasingly tense as the day wore on.
"It seems to me that all hell has broken loose in the jury deliberation room," Kennedy told attorneys after receiving a pair of notes from the seven-woman, five-man panel early this afternoon.
One of the missives indicated the jury was deadlocked on remaining charges, and said one juror had sent the judge a personal note and wouldn't disclose its content to other members of the panel. The other note came from a juror asking the judge to instruct the rest of the panel to act respectfully to other jurors.
Kennedy summoned the jury back into court, and all 12 of them said further deliberations would not help break the deadlock on remaining charges.
On Wednesday, former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and ex-City Council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were each convicted of five counts of misappropriation of public funds and acquitted of five others. Former Councilman George Cole was convicted of two counts and acquitted of two others, while former Councilman Victor Bello was convicted of four counts and acquitted of four others.
The panel completely exonerated former Councilman Luis Artiga of all 12 counts against him.
The jury foreman said the panel was split 9-3 on remaining counts against the defendants, but four female jurors said they felt more instructions from the judge might help break the deadlock. Kennedy asked the panel to submit specific questions and sent jurors back into the deliberation room.
Several more notes followed, with jurors asking for more information and eventually asking whether the judge intended to give them any more instructions beyond what they had already received.
By mid-afternoon, the panel sent the note indicating it remained deadlocked -- still on the 9-3 vote, with nine jurors favoring conviction.
Kennedy set another hearing for April 23, when the defendants will be sentenced and prosecutors will announce whether they plan to seek a retrial on the remaining counts.
The ex-city officials are all free on bail.
Hernandez, 65, Jacobo, 55, and Mirabal, 63, were each originally charged with 20 counts of misappropriating public funds between January 2006 and July 2010; Bello, 54, was charged with 16 counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2009; Artiga, 52, was charged with 12 counts of misappropriation between January 2008 and July 2010; and Cole, 63, was charged with eight counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2007.
Former City Manager Robert Rizzo, 59, who is accused of being the mastermind of the alleged corruption scheme, is awaiting trial separately, along with former assistant Angela Spaccia, 54, on corruption-related charges.