A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday denied a new trial for 12 Hanafi Muslims convicted of the March takeover of three Washington buildings, because, he said, there was not "one particle of evidence" to support claims of juror misconduct during the trial.
Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio said claims by defense lawyers that a female juror exhibited bizarre behavior during deliberations and thus may have been mentally impaired were - in the words of Mark Twain - "a trifling investment of fact."
In an 11 page opinion, Nunzio said he had privately examined the psychiatric records of the juror in question who was voluntarily admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital 80 days after the verdict was returned in the Hanafi case, and found "no suggestion" that the woman was mentally disabled during the trial, as defense lawyers had theorized.
"The established psychiatric diagnosis was 'adjustment reaction to adult life (hysterical psychosis)," Nunzio said. The woman was discharged from the hospital after seven days, Nunzio said.
In court papers filed last November, defense lawyers alleged that the juror had barricaded herself in a bathroom during deliberations, that she had acted in an irrational manner after the trial, may have set fire to her apartment and wandered confused and disoriented around the city before she was admitted to St. Elizabeths, the city hospital for the mentally ill.
The lawyers asked Nunzio to hold a closed hearing to investigate charges about the juror's conduct and then, based on what might be disclosed during that hearing, grant the defendants a new trial.
Nunzio called the allegation that he knew that the juror had barricaded herself in the bathroom during deliberations "simply untrue."
In his opinion, Nunzio revealed that on the third of fourth days of deliberation, a court clerk observed the juror exit from the bathroom and that it appeared the juror "may have been crying."
Nunzio said in the opinion that he informed the clerk that "if it became apparent that one of the jurors was 'hiding' in the bathroom, the facility would be locked."
Nunzio recounted in the opinion that later that same day, he stood in the doorway to the jury room to inform the panel that court was adjourned for the day and was thus able to observe the jury members himself.
"The court (Nunzio) observed the juror at issue and 11 other jurors sitting around the jury table" and saw "nothing out of the ordinary," the judge wrote.
"The court at no time apprised the government or the defense as to these matters because nothing bizarre, irrational or irregular appeared to the court," Nunzio said.
Considering what the court clerk saw, the defense attorneys suggestion that the juror "barricaded" herself in the bathroom "is to exceed to bounds of poetic license," Nunzio said.
While the female juror appeared to be crying, Nunzio said, "the court cannot infer from this fact alone that the verdict may have been the result of undue pressures exerted by other jurors," as defense lawyers speculated.
Nunzio noted, however, that when the verdict in the case was returned on July 23, "no less than nine jurors and one defense counsel were unashamedly crying."
"It is obvious to the court that the reason why a person cries" . . . cannot be determined by means of a hearing, Nunzio said.
Nunzio said that defense lawyers were required to present "clear and unconvertible evidence" that the juror was incompetent before or after jury service in order to merit a hearing into her conduct.
What defense lawyers have done, instead, Nunzio said, is to "invite the court to delve into the private life and problems of a juror in the vain hope" that the court will find the juror incompetent.
Nunzio said, however, that an initial determination of incompetency must be made prior to any claim that the juror was disqualified, not during a hearing, as defense attorneys requested.
The government had claimed, in court papers arguing against a new trial, that the juror had never been declared "incompetent" and thus no hearing, much less a new trial, was warranted.
The 12 Hanafis were convicted of various counts of armed kidnaping, murder, and assault in connection with the seige of the District Building, 14th and E Streets NW, the international headquarters of B'nai B'rith, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, and the Islamic Center, 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
During the incident, 149 persons were taken hostage, and a young radio reporter was killed. The convictions have been appealed.