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Bell corruption case: Juror dismissed, alternate juror to be chosen

February 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A juror in the Bell corruption case was dismissed for misconduct on Thursday and was replaced with an alternate juror.

The jury is deliberating in the trial of former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Luis Artiga, George Cole and Victor Bello, who are charged with misappropriation of public funds from the blue-collar city.

Juror misconduct was revealed after the panel sent a handwritten note to the judge that said, "We have reached a point where we as a jury have fundamental disagreements and cannot reach a unanimous verdict in this case. The members of this jury have expressed that no further discussions will be able to change this."

Then Juror No. 3, on the verge of tears, told the court that she had made up her mind on the corruption charges against the six city officials from bell, but that other jurors were harassing her. Her next steps, according to the judge, violated the rules of deliberation.

The juror acknowledged to the judge that she spoke to her daughter about deliberations and did research on the Internet even though the jury was cautioned not to. She claimed she was trying to find the definition of coercion, saying she was suffering abuse from the other jurors.

Juror instructions are explicit: Jurors are not to use the Internet, a dictionary or any outside source of information.

The D.A. supported the dismissal, but the defense was split on whether it might or hurt or help their clients, not knowing how the jury is leaning.

"It's best if we can get a verdict, that way we don't have to try the case again," said Stanley Friedman, attorney for Oscar Hernandez. "If it's a not guilty verdict, then maybe the D.A. would have preferred a mistrial."

The defendants face 12 to 20 counts each for allegedly giving themselves public funds that were not authorized by law. The defendants say the city attorney approved their pay raises under the city charter, but the prosecution says the defendants should have known that their salaries - $60,000 to $100,000 a year - were unlawfully excessive.

While the jury deliberates anew on the "Bell Six," a separate trial lies ahead for the alleged ringleader, former city manager Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia. The defense claims they are the real culprits.


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