A foreman has resigned. Another juror has fallen ill. And a third juror in a Philadelphia mob case suddenly recalls knowing something about a defense witness, and not liking him.
The federal jury is seemingly in chaos two weeks into deliberations. But U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno denied a mistrial Friday and instead ordered a newly-configured panel to start over.
The 10-week trial involves reputed mob boss Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi, his alleged underboss and five others. They're charged with racketeering, sports betting, loansharking and making threats to collect street loans and other debts. Prosecutors believe Ligambi, 73, has quietly controlled the mob in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey for more than a decade.
Given the violent history of La Cosa Nostra, the jury has been seated anonymously and is brought to court each day from a remote location. But defense lawyers note there's been no bloodshed despite an 11-year FBI investigation and thousands of wiretaps. They deride the prosecution's case as “Mob Lite.”
The original foreman remained on the panel Friday despite saying he'd been influenced by his fellow juror's attack on the defense witness. The mob lawyers wanted him and another juror removed because of their reaction to the juror's outburst. That would have exhausted the supply of three remaining alternate jurors.
Robreno instead removed only the woman who questioned the witness's credibility, and told the others to start from scratch.
“You're witnessing justice being done and the workings of the jury system,” Robreno told lawyers Friday. He rejected claims the jury was, in the words of one prosecutor, “perhaps wandering in the desert” after six days of deliberations.
“The jurors are lay people dealing with complex issues,” Robreno said.
It wasn't the first time he ordered the panel to start over since deliberations began on Jan. 8. One juror fell ill Tuesday and was replaced Wednesday when she remained sick for a second day.
“It's exhausting, physically and emotionally,” defense lawyer Christopher Warren said. “I've got to believe it's the same way for the jurors as well.”
Before the latest hiccup, the jury had frequently asked to rehear portions of the wiretaps. The requests did not appear to follow any particular order.
But a sense of progress emerged Friday afternoon with a note again seeking the tapes that had been sought before Thursday's outburst. That suggested the panel had caught the new juror up to speed and was back on track, some observers thought. The jury worked throughout the day before breaking for the holiday weekend.
Ligambi could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of all of the charges. The defendants include his nephew, George Borgesi, who was the focus of the tapes requested Friday.
One man still serving on the jury has worn an array of Harley-Davidson T-shirts to the federal courtroom, except for the day he advertised his fondness for liquor. He sits next to the studious-looking original foreman, who asked to resign the post Wednesday when the need for a new juror forced the first do-over.
“That's never happened to me before, and I've never heard of it happening,” Warren, a veteran defense lawyer, said of the foreman's resignation. “With the way deliberations were proceeding, I think he threw his hands up in the air and said: ‘Fine. Let somebody else be the foreman.’”