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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Trial and an Oath

Yesterday, a federal jury found former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of a single corruption count and deadlocked on the other 23. Earlier, the Chicago Sun-Times reported:

The courthouse is abuzz with questions after this morning's hearing. The jury's note indicates the panel is close to returning a verdict -- but how close? It's likely the jury is split and tempers are frayed -- but how split? How frayed?

Their request for a copy of the juror oath, especially, paints an interesting picture of what's going on behind those jury room doors.

That request -- coupled with their other question, about how to write a split vote on a verdict form -- could indicate that the group has reached an all-new level of infighting, that one camp is trying to show another camp that they aren't upholding their promise to "well and truly try" to reach a verdict.

The question may be, how long will they drag out that fight?

And so we wait. In the meantime, here's the text of that oath given to jurors in criminal cases -- the text given to the jury earlier:

"Do each of you solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will well and truly try, and true deliverance make, in the case now on trial and render a true verdict according to the law and the evidence, so help you God?"

The Chicago Daily Herald explained the significance of the request by citing a murder case:

More than two decades ago, DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett found himself playing a similar guessing game when faced with the same jury request in a murder trial of an 11-year-old girl.... Members continued deliberating into a third day when they asked the judge to provide them with a typed copy of their oath.

"As it turns out, one of the jurors said she heard a voice or saw a vision in her sleep that told her she could not sit in judgment of her fellow man," said Birkett, who still gets a Christmas card each year from Taneka's mother. "The other jurors were very frustrated, and, after getting a copy of the oath, reminded her she swore to God to do her best to sign a verdict."

Birkett said the jury returned to the courtroom within a half-hour with a signed verdict form - guilty. Jordan later received an 80-year prison term.

Birkett said in his case, as with Blagojevich, such requests by jurors to review their oath usually signals there are holdouts on the jury.