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No verdict in Bell trial after 15 days of deliberations

March 15, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
After 15 days of deliberations, there is still no verdict in the Bell city corruption trial. Jurors in the Bell city corruption trial had questions about the reading ability of former Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez.

For five weeks, jurors listened to the case presented by the prosecution, asserting that six former council members looted Bell's city treasury.

"The evidence will show that these defendants stole over $1.3 million from the citizens of Bell," said Deputy District Attorney Ed Miller during the trial.

But proving that is more complex. Stanley Friedman, who represents Hernandez, said he did not foresee deliberations taking this long.

Jurors had requested another read back of testimony Thursday. A component of Hernandez's defense is that he can't read complex documents. Jurors asked for a read back of former city clerk Rebecca Valdez's testimony.

The jury wants to hear about an alleged trick in which Valdez slipped a document involving salaries in with a stack of papers for Hernandez to sign.

Harland Braun, who will represent city official Angela Spaccia when she is tried with former city administrator Robert Rizzo, is watching the case.

"They have been deliberating a very long time. If they have fundamental disagreements, I'm sure the disagreements go right to the heart of the case," Braun said. "Otherwise, they would have come back with some verdicts."

The defendants face 12 to 20 counts of misappropriation of public funds. A key question is whether they had lawful authority to give themselves hefty salaries.

The jury in one note asked for clarification, asking if one law overrides another.

In trial, there were arguments about whether the defendants understood the law. The prosecution says they all had experience handling money, and that as residents of a low-income city, they should have known that their salaries of $60,000 to $100,000 a year were excessive. The defendants say they relied on professionals on staff, including the city attorney, who indicated in documents that the council members did act legally.

Braun believes the jury's questions indicate that they see wrongdoing, but may be unsure if the defendants are to blame.

"If the salaries were legal, there is no issue after that," Braun said. "Then the case is over. So some of the jurors must think that the salaries are illegal, and now the issue is whether the city council people should know that."


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