Tags: US | Blagojevich | Trial | Jurors

Ryan Jurors Know What Blagojevich Jury Is Facing

Sunday, 08 Aug 2010 05:24 PM

 

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They wanted a law book to help them understand the jury instructions, and wondered why the judge wouldn't give it to them. Bunched together, with the restroom so close, they got to know each other intimately. And the nonsmokers groused when the others were allowed a cigarette break.

As jurors in ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial enter their second full week of deliberations, another group of 12 has an inkling of what's going on behind their closed door: The jurors whose 2006 verdict put George Ryan, another former Illinois governor, behind bars.

They also felt the pressure of deciding a complex, high-stakes case, knowing their verdict would make headlines across the nation.

"There's stress, disagreements, arguments, quiet time, a lot of emotion," said former Ryan juror Karen James, a postal worker.

For nearly two weeks, James and the other jurors discussed — sometimes heatedly — what they'd watched unfold in court over seven months. They dug into box after box of evidence, pored over mind-numbing documents that forensic accountants had gone over from the witness stand, trying first to figure out what they meant and then if they helped prove Ryan was guilty of any crimes.

And they grappled with the most serious and stressful issue: A lone juror refusing to deliberate no matter how much the others pleaded with her.

"Some jurors couldn't eat, couldn't sleep," said Denise Peterson, a suburban Chicago teacher.

The holdout juror, Evelyn Ezell of Chicago, sent a note to the judge alleging that other panel members were "shouting profanity" and calling her derogatory names in the jury room. In response, the judge sent jurors a note directing them to "treat one another with dignity and respect."

Realizing they were at a standstill, the other jurors sent a letter to the judge explaining what was going on. Then, after eight days of deliberations, journalists discovered that Ezell and another member of the panel had omitted from their questionnaires encounters with police, prompting the judge to kick them both off the jury.

So, all the notes jurors had taken during deliberations were collected and they had to begin again, with two of the alternates taking up places in the jury room.

Whether anything approaching that kind of drama is going on with the Blagojevich jury is anyone's guess. But jurors in the Ryan case said that after this long, it is inevitable that nerves are getting a bit frayed and little things are becoming irritating.

Like the times when it seemed like things were going along smoothly and one of the smokers insisted on taking a break. Or the times some jurors found themselves on the short end of the vote about what to eat.

"I just wanted a salad from the salad bar," said Peterson — a desire that turned into a trip to courthouse cafeteria under the watchful eye of a deputy marshal.

Then there were the jurors who wouldn't stop talking.

"Some people had to have the run of the show," said James.

Each jury handles that differently. In the racketeering trial of Scott Fawell, a top aide to Ryan, the jury employed a Beanie Baby stuffed animal.

"We agreed that whoever was holding it had the floor — then they decided who to pass it to next," said Lynda Filipello, a 71-year-old suburban Chicago resident who served as foreman. "Within a few days everyone was civil and we didn't even need it any more."

In the Ryan case, said Peterson, the foreman would point to people who wanted to talk, telling them when it was their turn to speak.

By the time alternate juror Charles Svymbersky joined deliberations, things were running smoothly.

"We went around the table and everybody gives views on whatever indictment you're on," he said.

Jurors on the Ryan case suggested their case may have been more complicated than what the Blagojevich jurors are dealing with, for the simple reason that so much of the evidence presented by prosecutors in the current case consists of the then-governor's now-famous, secretly recorded telephone calls.

"We didn't have the luxury of listening to (Ryan) on tape," said Allen. "I think we had one two-minute tape."

So they relied heavily on the notebooks they filled during the trial, flipping through page after page to see what they wrote weeks or months earlier. And they filled up more notebooks as one of them wrote down what they were talking about on an easel.

"You write down everything meticulously when you are talking about a man's life," said Svymbersky.

Peterson said jurors talked about themselves, tried to figure out whether their fellow jurors were Republicans or Democrats, and even joked about how the parade of elderly witnesses early in the trial was their first clue that they were going to be sitting in the jury box for a while.

"We said they knew the older people wouldn't live a year so they had them in the beginning," she said, chuckling.

The jurors even got to do some dancing — briefly. On a sunny day when the court security officer escorted them outside, two jurors, without the benefit of music, simply danced for a moment.

Then it was back to work.

——

Associated Press Writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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