WASHINGTON (AP) Jurors described a hectic atmosphere and violent outbursts in the jury room at Sen. Ted Stevens’ corruption trial Thursday, chaos that threatened to derail the monthlong trial of the powerful Alaska lawmaker.
In a note to the judge, jurors asked that one of their panel be sent home. The note described the female juror as rude, disrespectful and unreasonable.
“She has had violent outbursts with other jurors, and that’s not helping anyone,” the note read, according to U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan.
Sullivan refused to excuse the juror, fearing it would interfere with the deliberations.
The note arrived on the second day of deliberations in the senator’s trial. Hours after receiving the case Wednesday, jurors told the judge that things had become stressful and asked to go home. The latest note said “jurors are getting off course.”
Stevens, the longest-serving Senate Republican, is charged with lying for years on Senate financial disclosure documents to conceal $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from his friend, millionaire oil contractor Bill Allen.
Tension in the jury room is normally viewed as good for a defendant. It increases the likelihood that jurors won’t reach the unanimous decision needed for a verdict. Without a unanimous vote, a trial ends in a mistrial and prosecutors must decide whether to start over.
Sullivan said he was concerned by the claims of violence and he considered questioning the jury foreman about what was going on. But judges are loath to do anything that might steer jurors to one outcome.
Stevens’ attorneys urged caution.
“It cannot be the law that 11 people on a jury can ask that one person be removed,” attorney Robert Cary said.
“If they’re being violent they can,” Sullivan responded.
The middle-aged juror said during jury selection that she worked in the National Guard’s property office and had a background in accounting.
Worried about disrupting the process, Sullivan opted not to remove the woman. He spoke with jurors, told them how important their job was, urged them to be civil and sent them back to continue deliberating.
“No one appeared to be agitated at all,” to be sent back to the jury room, Sullivan said.
Stevens has maintained his innocence amid a tight re-election campaign. Democrats have spent heavily in an effort to seize control of a seat Stevens has held for 40 years.