As Sen. Ted Stevens shuffles toward the finish line in his Senate race in Alaska, it remains to be seen whether his conviction last week will doom his bid for a seventh term. But while we’re all waiting to find out, The BLT sat down today with one of the jurors in his five-week-long trial.
Colleen Walsh, a program assistant at the National City Christian Church, was the alternate juror who replaced Marian Hinnant, who left town in the middle of deliberation to see a horse race in California. (Hinnant lied, telling the court her father had died, you’ll recall.)
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, after losing contact with Hinnant (juror No. 4), used Walsh (juror No. 11) to replace her. The jury reconvened on Monday, Oct. 27, after about half a week of deliberation.
Walsh says the jury had decided to start deliberation anew, with or without Hinnant. The previous week had been stressful: One of the jurors, No. 9, was particularly opinionated. In a note to Judge Sullivan, the foreman said the juror was prone to “violent outbursts.”
Walsh says she could sense the tension of the previous week as deliberation got underway. Before reading through the indictment, one of the jurors presented a list of rules: No swearing, let each person have their say, and keep your voice down.
The jurors took turns reading through the instructions, before moving on to the counts. The first -- the overarching “scheme” count -- gave the jury the most trouble, Walsh says. Juror No. 9, in particular, wasn’t convinced that Stevens actually could be convicted of accepting gifts that he said he didn’t want in the first place.
One of the other jurors, Walsh said, explained the count this way: “If you get a sweater for Christmas that you don’t like, and you don’t return it, you still got a gift even if you hate the sweater.” That seemed good enough for No. 9. Soon after, the jurors unanimously voted to convict on the first count (by raising hands).
For each of the counts, the jury went through the timeline, making sure it matched up with the evidence. (They found an error, actually, which resulted in a jury note.) But after that first count, the others moved along more quickly. The jury never reviewed the audio recordings, relying heavily on the paper evidence, Walsh says.
“We always went back to the forms,” Walsh says.
And those five character witnesses? “Oh, we really liked Colin Powell, but the facts still said [Stevens] got gifts and didn’t report them,” Walsh says. The jurors never even mentioned the character witnesses during deliberations.
And that jury instruction, the one about the government violating its obligation to turn over certain evidence? The government's gaffe -- prosecutors failed to turn over a copy of a check -- barely registered with the jurors. It was never discussed, except in passing, as the jurors took turns reading the instructions at the start of deliberation. "We were told to focus on the facts. That's what we did," Walsh says.
During one break, juror No. 9 raised concerns about sending Stevens to prison. Walsh says she and the other jurors “were also concerned about that, but we said that we had to go with the facts. It wasn’t up to us what his punishment would be.”
Walsh said Stevens' testimony hurt more than it helped. From the defense table he was a sympathetic character, “kind of hunched over and small,” but on the stand “he was like a lion,” Walsh said.
The jury was turned off by his belligerence, she says. “We were all like, ‘Why is he testifying?’”
When asked to assess the attorneys’ performance, Walsh laughed. She had nicknamed Williams & Connolly’s Brendan Sullivan Jr. “Mr. Burns,” as in the curmudgeonly Simpsons character. Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor, was “Rosie Perez.” (Click here for a more complete list of nicknames on Walsh's blog, which she started recently.) “She was feisty,” Walsh says of Morris.
The nicknames were one way to break the tedium during five weeks of trial. Another: Juror No. 10, apparently, was a decent sketch artist. He kept his fellow jurors entertained with his renderings of witnesses.
At points in the trial, it was difficult to stay awake, especially during the six hours of closing arguments, Walsh says. “It was so painful,” she says, laughing. “We were over the lawyers at that point.” Her advice for lawyers: "Keep closing arguments down. You don't need to talk for, like, three hours."
Fortunately, says Walsh, the foreman had taken upon himself to police drowsy jurors. He would lock eyes with the juror sitting closest to them, a signal to nudge the sleeping juror awake.
When it was all over, Walsh says, she felt a pang of regret about convicting Stevens, considering his many years of public service.
“But for me, if the evidence is there, the guy can talk all day long about what he’s done,” Walsh says. “There are plenty of great people who have done really bad things.”