The judge's removal of a woman from the federal jury in one of the nation’s most controversial terrorism trials dominated oral arguments Tuesday, in the appeal of five Miami men convicted of conspiring to aid al-Qaida.
The unidentified woman, known only as Juror No. 4, was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard after deliberating for nearly three days in late April 2009 because the other 11 jurors said she refused to discuss the fate of the remaining defendants in a group originally dubbed the "Liberty City Seven.’"
The ruling led to the juror’s replacement by an alternate juror, a man, and the eventual conviction of the five defendants on material-support conspiracy charges. One other defendant was acquitted.
The removal of Juror No. 4 from the 12-person panel carried great consequences.
Had she been allowed to hold out as the minority juror, prompting a third mistrial in the controversial case, the five defendants could have walked out of the courtroom free, because the U.S. attorney’s office had already said it wouldn’t try them a fourth time.
Defense lawyers said Tuesday that Lenard made a major error about Juror No. 4 that should compel the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the convictions and order a new trial. A decision could take months.
Juror No. 4 “goes in there and makes up her mind,” said attorney Ana Jhones, who represented the ringleader in the Liberty City group. “Does that mean she’s not deliberating? There is evidence that Juror No. 4 was, in fact, deliberating.”
She also said the woman was intimidated by the foreman in the jury room.
But a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office disagreed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Colan said Juror No. 4 indicated to a courtroom deputy even before the start of deliberations that she didn’t want to discuss the evidence. She just wanted to express her opinion.
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