Mistrial declared in California corruption case

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 21, 2013 at 9:06 pm •  Published: March 21, 2013
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Saying she feared "all hell" had broken loose among jurors, a judge declared a mistrial Thursday on dozens of remaining counts against five former elected officials who had been convicted the day before of looting a working-class Los Angeles suburb.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy took the action after the 12-member panel struggled to decide 42 counts against the former mayor and four former members of the Bell City Council.

On Wednesday, the panel convicted the five of a total of 21 counts of misappropriating public funds and acquitted them on 21 other counts. A sixth former official was acquitted of all charges.

The convictions were the first to come after revelations more than a year ago that Bell's leadership had illegally raised taxes, business license fees and other sources of income to pay huge salaries to the city manager, police chief, City Council members and others.

Things quickly went downhill Thursday after the judge asked jurors to try to reach verdicts on dozens more counts of misappropriating public funds. The panel was deadlocked 9-3 in favor of convicting them.

One juror sent a note Thursday that read, "Your honor, I respectfully ask if you could please remind the jury to remain respectful and to not make false accusations or insults to one another."

Another indicated the group had reached a dead-end when it came to most of the remaining 42 counts.

"It seems to me all hell has broken loose," Kennedy told attorneys after receiving the notes.

She then called the jurors back to court and asked them to try one more time.

After one more short session, they said they could not agree and the judge declared the mistrial.

Jurors said they did not want to speak to the news media or attorneys and asked to be escorted privately from the courthouse. Prosecutors also declined to comment.

Earlier in the day, a juror had sent the judge a note expressing misgivings about the previous day's guilty verdicts, but Kennedy ruled that decision was final and would not be revisited.

"The chips are going to fall where they fall," she said.

She scheduled a hearing April 23 to determine whether the deadlocked counts will be retried. A sentencing hearing on the guilty verdicts was not immediately set.

Defense attorneys said they planned to file a motion for a new trial based on possible juror misconduct.

"I think our clients were vilified in the court of public opinion. The call for their guilt has been ringing out," said Alex Kessel, former Councilman George Mirabal's attorney.

He added that jurors may have felt that public pressure to convict and, if they did, the law allows the court to reconsider their verdict.

The case involving the modest 2 1/2-square-mile city has become a national symbol of political greed. Authorities allege a salary-inflating scheme masterminded by former City Manager Robert Rizzo enriched him, the council members and other top city officials. Rizzo and his former assistant, Angela Spaccia, are scheduled to face trial later this year on similar charges.

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