Jacksonville, FL - “The Holy Spirit” told him now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges.
We’re getting new insight in to the reason one of the initial members of the jury in Brown’s federal fraud trial was removed from the case, a day and a half after deliberations started. WOKV previously reported that a juror expressed concerns about another juror’s comments about “higher beings”, and that ultimately led to the dismissal of the juror who made the comments. The discussion between the Judge and attorneys, as well as juror interviews which supported the excusal, were made during a hearing session that was closed to the public, though, so the exact details weren’t initially available.
Now, a transcript of that roughly 90 minute proceeding has been unsealed.
The release of the transcript comes at the request of several media organizations, including Cox Media Group on behalf of WOKV. It was discussed during a Monday hearing that followed Brown’s convictions last week on 18 of the 22 federal charges she had faced. The Judge allowed her conditions of release to remain in effect, meaning Brown will not go to prison pending her sentencing hearing, unless she violates terms put in place by the court.
The closed door session began with District Judge Timothy Corrigan reminding Juror 8- who was the one who notified the court of the concern- that she was not being asked to disclose her position in the ongoing deliberations or the opinions of the other jurors. Instead, he focused in specifically on her call to the courtroom deputy.
Juror 8 told Corrigan she wrote a letter explaining her concern, in case she didn’t get a phone call.
This is a letter from juror who raised initial concern that ultimately led to juror being excused from fmr Rep Corrine Brown deliberations: pic.twitter.com/8duUaaHPZF— Stephanie Brown (@SBrownReports) May 15, 2017
The letter was read by Corrigan and shared with the attorneys. It says Juror 8 was concerned because Juror 13 said “A Higher Being told me Corrine Brown was Not guilty on all charges”. The letter says Juror 13 then went on to say he “trusted the Holy Ghost”.
Upon further questioning from Corrigan, Juror 8 said the first comment was made right at the start of deliberations. The second part was made within a few hours. Juror 13 had not said anything similar since that time. Juror 8 said the comments were not interfering with the jury’s ability to deliberate, but she was concerned it would interfere with Juror 13’s ability to make a decision as the court instructed- based solely on the evidence and testimony presented at trial and the law they were instructed on as it relates to the case.
While Juror 8 believed other jurors shared the same concern she had, she told the court that she had come forward on her own, and that the others likely didn’t even know she had.
After Juror 8 was excused from the hearing room, Assistant US Attorney A. Tysen Duva called the text of her letter “pretty startling”. He said potential jurors are asked during the selection process whether they can set aside religious and philosophical beliefs, and that it appeared Juror 13 may not be able to do that. He asked Corrigan to call in the foreperson to see if she had a similar view of what was taking place.
“Because if it’s affecting the deliberation overall, we all know what that result could be. And I don’t think anybody wants that. And so I think that has to be the inquiry: Is this viewpoint affecting the jury’s ability to reach a verdict, whatever that verdict might be? Because I think the worst scenario here is to stop at this point and sort of hope for the best. I think—I think with an issue like this that came up so early in the jury deliberations, we might all be headed for trying this case a second time. And I don’t think anybody wants that,” Duva said.
Defense Attorney James Smith III disagreed, though, saying the information available didn’t indicate that Juror 13 was not fulfilling his duties. In fact, he pointed out that Juror 8 told the court Juror 13 appeared to be participating in deliberations.
“I can understand why there might be a threshold concern with this as initially reported to the court, but I think, given the answers that we’ve received now from the juror, that it’s not affecting her deliberations. Absent any information to show that this juror is refusing to follow the court’s instructions, I don’t believe that anything additional needs to be done, frankly, at this point,” Smith said.
Corrigan agreed that he didn’t need to make further inquiry with other jurors, siding instead with speaking straight to the juror in question, Juror 13.
“It really is a fine line, because, obviously, people pray for guidance and so forth, and I—you know, that’s certainly to be respected. On the other hand, if this juror is, in effect, raising some religious view that would prevent him from ever determining that a defendant was guilty on charges or that Ms. Brown was guilty on charges, that is problematic,” Corrigan said.
Corrigan went on to question whether Smith would feel the same if the juror had indicated a higher being told him Brown was guilty, rather than innocent.
Corrigan decided to interview Juror 13, but used a different elevator to usher Juror 8 out and bring in Juror 13, so that the movement of those involved were not visible to the press.
The questioning of Juror 13 started broadly, seeing if the juror remembered the questioning on this line from the selection process. Juror 13 said he did remember, and that he was not having any religious or moral beliefs that were interfering with his ability to decide the case as instructed. He did confirm to Corrigan that he had expressed a religious sentiment to other jurors.
“I told them that in all of this, in listening to all the information, taking it all down, I listen for the truth, and I know the truth when the truth is spoken. So I expressed that to them, and how I came to that conclusion,” said Juror 13.
Juror 13 said he had prayed about the matter and had received information on what to do from “My Father in Heaven”. Despite that, Juror 13 maintained that he was basing his decision on the evidence presented at trial and the law as instructed.
When Juror 13 was excused so the court could further discuss the matter, Duva immediately expressed his concern about some “very damaging things” said by Juror 13.
“This is a juror who is guided by what he believes a deity told him to do, and is apparently implementing that, and not by the court’s instructions on the law. There is nowhere in the court’s instructions on the law where it says that it’s permissible to receive information from a god or higher power and implement that and impose that on the deliberative process,” Duva said.
Again, Smith disagreed, noting that the juror believed he was still following the court’s instructions.
“I think a fair reading here—what may have happened is that, as a person of deep faith, and perhaps like many people with deep faith, has prayed for clarity, the ability to be fair, the ability to be calm, but I did not hear this juror say, I came in with a view given to me by god, and I’m going to go with that, I’m going to follow God no matter what,” Smith said.
Smith said he had concerns this juror would be removed “simply because he is a man of faith”.
To distinguish between the comments relayed by Juror 8- which could amount to a “religious intrusion” in the deliberations- and Juror 13’s sincere religious beliefs- which could include praying for guidance- Corrigan called Juror 13 back in to directly ask him if he made the comments that had been reported to the court.
After some broad questions, District Judge Timothy Corrigan directly asked Juror 13 about comments another juror said he made: pic.twitter.com/dG3oIxutBS— Stephanie Brown (@SBrownReports) May 15, 2017
Juror 13 confirmed that, at the start of deliberations, he said “the Holy Spirit” told him Brown was not guilty on all charges.
Duva then moved to remove Juror 13 from the panel and seat the first alternate, noting specifically that making that comment at the start of deliberations shows that he wasn’t following the court’s order. Smith said because the juror maintained that he was considering evidence, there was no valid basis for removal.
Ultimately, Corrigan cited some case law which said a juror should be excused only when “no substantial possibility exists” that a decision is being based solely on evidence in his decision to remove Juror 13. He added that “sincerely held religious beliefs” and praying for guidance are not in themselves grounds to dismiss, but Juror 13’s statements and the timing of the statements show inconsistencies with the law as instructed.
“Because, by definition, it’s not that the person is praying for guidance so that the person can be enlightened, it’s that the higher being—or the Holy Spirit is directing or telling the person what disposition of the charges should be made,” Corrigan said.
Four alternates were seated for the trial and all of them sat through the proceedings without knowing they were alternates. They were then kept in the courthouse once deliberations began, although they were not in the deliberation room. Once Corrigan excused Juror 13, the conversation moved to whether to seat an alternate or proceed with 11 jurors.
Duva and Smith conferred, and agreed an alternate should be seated. Juror 5 was the first alternate in the selection process and was installed on the panel.
Corrigan did note that his ruling could potentially be an issue raised on appeal.
The newly reformed jury was instructed to start their deliberations over. About a day and a half later, they returned with unanimous verdicts convicting Brown on 18 of the 22 federal charges she faced, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, filing false tax returns, and more. She was found not guilty on two counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud.
The charges all stem from Brown’s role in a sham charity called One Door For Education. She, her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, and One Door President Carla Wiley raised more than $800,000 in donations to the charity, but used the money for personal expenses instead, according to prosecutors.
Despite the convictions, Brown is maintaining her innocence. Shortly after the verdicts, Smith said he intends to file a motion for a new trial and take other measures. The defense has said Brown did not closely manage her finances and office, relying instead on Simmons, who betrayed her trust. They said any wrongdoing was a mistake, and not criminal.
Simmons and Wiley both pleaded guilty and testified in the trial.
Other juror contact
During a Monday hearing, Smith told the court that he had been contacted by one of the jurors about an issue the juror believed would help his appeal. Corrigan told Smith to file a motion if he wanted to contact the juror, and Smith said he would. Duva indicated he would want any such interview to be conducted in the presence of a court report.
Corrigan further said another juror had reached out to a court officer to express concern about how some of Juror 13’s comments were being characterized in the media. The juror claimed statements that Juror 13 was voting not guilty because what he was told by the Holy Spirit was “not true in the partial vote we had taken prior to removal”. It’s unclear whether the “not true” was referring to how the comment was being characterized or how the voting was taking place, but Corrigan noted that jurors should not be contacting the court to talk about deliberations.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All of the direct quotes in this article are attributable to the court transcript, not to WOKV’s independent confirmation of what was said.