Jurors in Libby Case Allowed to Leave Deliberations Early
Friday, March 2, 2007
Jurors considering perjury charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby signaled yesterday that they were still working to reach a verdict after seven days of deliberations and did not expect to arrive at one this week, according to a note they sent to the presiding trial judge.
The 11 jurors asked U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton to release them at 2 p.m. today so some can attend to personal business. Walton said in court that he presumes jurors will continue deliberating into next week in the case against Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.
"We the jury respectfully request to be excused at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 2, to attend to personal professional and medical obligations that can't be addressed during our weekend," jurors wrote to Walton in a note posted on the court's Web site late yesterday afternoon.
Walton called jurors into court about 4:30 p.m. on a separate matter, telling them they could not consult a dictionary, as they had requested. He said he would explain words they have trouble understanding, then promised they could leave at 2 p.m. today and sent them home.
Walton noted the jurors' casual clothing and said he "knew we wouldn't have a verdict today." He added, referring to the note he had just received: "And I assume they will not have a verdict tomorrow either." During their three-minute appearance in court, only the second since deliberations began, several jurors chatted amiably.
Monday would mark the ninth day of jury deliberations after a trial that lasted 14 court days.
Gregory Mize, a retired D.C. Superior Court judge now researching jury trials in state and federal courts, said there is no good way to judge the appropriate length of jury deliberations for a case.
"The time needed to reach unanimity depends on lots of things, such as the complexity of the case and the chemistry of the jurors in their relationship and communications during deliberations," he said.
The longest recent deliberation in this federal court was 29 days, in a 2002 case that resulted in the convictions of six members of a drug gang known as "Murder Inc."
Libby, 56, is charged with five felony counts alleging that in 2003 he lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury investigating the disclosure of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Plame is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who in 2002 was sent by the CIA on a mission to Niger to explore reports that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials from the African nation. He concluded those reports were groundless and, months after the Iraq war began, publicly accused President Bush of distorting his findings to justify the invasion.
Prosecutors contend that Libby was part of a White House campaign to disclose Plame's identity to discredit her husband by implying that he was chosen for the Niger mission because she worked at the CIA.
Libby is not charged with the leak. His lawyers say he inaccurately remembered conversations with colleagues and journalists about Wilson and Plame because he had a bad memory and was overwhelmed by national security responsibilities.
Political researcher Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report.