WASHINGTON — The jurors who are weighing whether Sen. Ted Stevens is guilty of lying on his financial disclosure forms have developed a reputation for flaky behavior over the past several days, but they're apparently giving the evidence a meticulous reading.
On Monday, the jury picked up on a discrepancy between the indictment and the evidence in the case against the 84-year-old Republican senator from Alaska.
Why, the jurors wondered, does the indictment say that Stevens checked "no" on his 2001 financial disclosure form when he was asked whether he accepted any gifts? The indictment also alleges that Stevens didn't attach any schedule detailing what gifts he'd received.
Yet Stevens did check "yes" acknowledging that he'd received gifts, the jurors noticed. He also disclosed a gift: a $1,100 gold commemorative coin struck for the 2001 Special Olympics in Alaska.
The judge decided to answer the question by instructing jurors that "the indictment is merely a charging document, it is not evidence. You must consider all the evidence and my instructions to determine whether the government has proven each element of an offense in the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt."
The jurors' question refers to the first page of the disclosure form, where senators are asked to report any gifts valued at $260 or more from 2001. Senators who check "yes" are directed to fill out supplemental schedules listing each gift, its source and its value.
For some of the years covered in the indictment, Stevens checked "yes." For instance, in 2004, he reported receiving an $800 rug from the president of Azerbaijan, which he donated to the secretary of state. In no instance from 2000 to 2006, however, did Stevens list gifts from Veco Corp. or Bill Allen, accused of providing most of the unreported gifts to him.
The discrepancy that the jurors caught had gotten by nearly everybody: the judge, lawyers on both sides and even reporters who've sat through the proceedings. Still, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan disagreed with the prosecutors when they called it a typographical error.
"Presumably somebody reads these indictments before they return them," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Presumably."
The jury's attention to detail suggests that its members are combing carefully through their instructions and are matching up all the counts in the instructions with the evidence and the allegations in the indictment.
"This jury is very perceptive. They aren't missing anything," Sullivan said.
The jury's question is an important one because the year 2001 is at the heart of the government's case, which accuses Stevens of accepting more than $250,000 in gifts over six years and willfully failing to disclose them on his financial disclosure forms.
In 2001 alone, Stevens is accused of accepting $110,153.64 in materials, labor and other renovation expenses to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. He's also accused of accepting furniture for that home and a $2,695 massage chair for his home in Washington. Other gifts that prosecutors said he'd accepted that year include a new tool cabinet with tools, a new professional Viking gas grill and a stained-glass window.
One of Stevens' attorneys, Craig Singer, argued that Stevens can't be accused of making false statements when he did answer "yes" that he'd accepted gifts.
Prosecutors countered that the discrepancy doesn't matter. Even if Stevens checked "yes" on the form, he was legally obligated to report all the gifts he received, and he never disclosed receiving any of the home repairs he got from Allen, Veco and others.
The jury passed its note to the judge shortly after noon Monday, about three hours into its deliberations.
The jury, which got the case Wednesday afternoon after four weeks of testimony, was ordered to start deliberating from scratch Monday after an alternate replaced one of the jurors. The dismissed juror had learned last week that her father had died, which held up deliberations for a day while the judge determined whether to proceed without her.
The jurors got their flaky reputation last week when they sent the judge a note asking for one of the jurors to be removed just one day into their deliberations. The juror was having "violent outburst with other jurors," they told the judge. He lectured them on civility, and the jurors left for the day all smiles, the problem apparently resolved.
Then another juror's father died and she had to leave. Sullivan halted the deliberations Friday, then lost touch with the grieving juror, No. 4, over the weekend and couldn't determine whether she'd be available this week. He decided in a hearing Sunday night to begin again with the alternate on Monday morning.
As soon as court began for the day Monday, Sullivan brought in the alternate for a brief conversation to see whether anything had happened over the weekend that would make her unable to deliberate, and then told her to rejoin the jurors.
"We really appreciate your availability, thank you," he told her. As one of four alternates, she'd sat through the trial but had been dismissed once the jury began its deliberations last week. She and the other three alternates were warned not to read anything about the trial or talk to anyone about it, however, because they might still be asked back.
The judge then brought in the other jurors Monday and told them not to speculate about why juror No. 4 no longer was present. He didn't tell them about her personal situation.
He also told them they needed to start their deliberations from scratch with the alternate juror but that how they did it was for them to decide.
Federal juries are allowed to proceed with fewer than 12 jurors. However, while it's common to reach a verdict with just 11, it's almost unheard-of to proceed with fewer than that. Stevens' attorneys had advocated continuing with 11 rather than replacing the missing juror.
The jury of eight women and four men must review seven felony counts to determine whether Stevens is guilty of lying on his Senate disclosure forms about gifts, mostly home repairs from the oil-services company Veco Corp. and its former owner, Allen. Stevens also is accused of accepting gifts from other friends and failing to report them.
(Mauer reports for the Anchorage Daily News.)
McClatchy Newspapers 2008