WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday added a new juror to the panel deciding Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' federal corruption trial, possibly dimming prospects for a verdict before Election Day.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed a female juror Sunday evening after she flew to California for her father's funeral and did not contact court officials to say when she would be back. Sullivan replaced her with the first of the jury's four alternates Monday morning after questioning the new juror to make sure she could serve.
"Has anything happened since we last spoke that would affect your ability to deliberate in this case?" Sullivan inquired.
"No," said juror No. 11, a middle-aged woman who manages a church Web site.
Stevens is charged with lying on Senate financial disclosure documents to conceal $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from a friend, millionaire oil contractor Bill Allen. He has proclaimed his innocence, and is locked in a tight race with Democrat Mark Begich for the Senate seat he has held since 1968.
The jury, which still has eight women and four men, was then instructed to restart their deliberations, since the new juror had not been involved with the initial discussions on Wednesday and Thursday.
Sullivan shut down what would have been the third day of deliberations on Friday to accommodate juror No. 4, a middle-aged woman who works in the bankruptcy industry. Her father died Thursday and she flew to California on Friday.
But court officials were not able to get in contact with her on Sunday to see when she would be returning to the District of Columbia, Sullivan said. "She has, for whatever reason, chosen not to communicate further with the court," the judge said.
Sullivan rejected requests from defense lawyers to wait until midday Monday to dismiss the juror, or to have the jury continue deliberations with 11 jurors, saying adding the first alternate "would be the right way to proceed."
The trial, which began Sept. 22, has been beset by problems since the case went to the jury on Wednesday. Within hours, jurors asked to go home, sending a note to the judge saying that things had become "stressful." On Thursday afternoon, in a more explicit note, jurors asked the judge to dismiss a juror who had "violent outbursts."
Sullivan did not send home the juror in question, instead counseling the jury to "encourage civility and mutual respect among yourselves."