Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Jury in Black trial struggling to reach verdicts (Times UK)


James Bone in Chicago

The jury in Lord Black of Crossharbour’s US fraud trial raised the possibility last night of a mistrial on some counts. On their ninth day of deliberations the jury indicated that it may deliver only a partial verdict – possibly as early as today.

Jurors sent the judge a note saying that they were deadlocked on some of the 42 charges against Lord Black and his three co-accused. “We have discussed and deliberated on all of the evidence and are still unable to reach a unanimous verdict on one or more counts. Please advise,” the note said. “PS We have read the jury instruction very carefully. (page 75)”

The parentheses suggested that jurors had paid special attention to the final page of the 75-page jury instruction on how to reach a verdict. That page charges that jurors should “consult with one another, express your own views and listen to the opinions of your fellow jurors. Discuss your differences with an open mind.”

But it adds: You should not surrender your honest beliefs about the weight or effect of evidence solely because of the opinions of your fellow jurors for the purpose of reaching a unanimous verdict.”

Lord Black, who was given 30 minutes to get to the Chicago court from his hotel, arrived in a tan suit with no socks inside his loafers. His daughter, Alana, arrived shortly afterwards. But his wife, Barbara Amiel, did not turn up.

He watched blankly as the jury filed into court to hear the judge repeat her instruction. The 62-year-old former Telegraph chairman could face the rest of his life behind bars if convicted of looting $60 million (£30 million) from the newspaper group he ran, once the third largest in the world. He faces a total of 13 charges of fraud, tax evasion, obstruction of justice and racketeering.

There was no indication whether the jury was deadlocked on charges against Lord Black or on counts against his codefendants. Ron Safer, defending Mark Kipnis, one of Lord Black’s codefendants, asked the judge to accept a partial verdict and declare a mistrial on the unresolved charges.

“From their note they’ve clearly been at this state for some time and it is our opinion that we accept what they have and thank them for their service,” Mr Safer said.

The prosecution also asked for the judge to accept a partial verdict, but requested that the jurors then be sent to try to reach a decision on the remaining counts. Judge Amy St Eve told the jury to continue their deliberations, saying that she sometimes sent a deadlocked jury back twice. But she said that she would consider accepting a partial verdict if the jury sent a second similar note.

The nine women and three men on the jury later left together without any obvious bad feeling and said that they would resume work today.

The jury is required to fill out a 30-page verdict form that starts with the 13 charges against Lord Black and then moves through each of his three co-accused. Their initial notes to the judge indicated that they started by examining “noncompete” payments made to Lord Black and the three other exectives as the newspaper company disposed of its US and Canadian assets from 1998-2001.

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