A mistrial was declared in a D.C. Superior Court case yesterday after two women members of a deadlocked jury became locked in combat.
Judge George H. Revercomb stopped the jury's deliberations, declared a mistrial and sent the bristling jurors home after squeals and sounds of a scuffle filtered into his courtroom from the small jury room nearby.
The jury had been deliberating for two days in the trial of three men charged with armed robbery when an argument broke out between the two women over the evidence in the case, according to witnesses.
According to a witness, Anne Wiltse, 26, the foreman of the jury, and Marian White, 42, began arguing because White said the government had not proved its case. Some jurors felt White -- reportedly the lone holdout on the jury -- had not heard all the evidence because she had slept during part of the trial, the witness said.
The government's evidence included police testimony that they recovered from the defendants most of the $65 in cash taken in the robbery, including a $50 bill.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Elwood Ward was in the jury room and tried to stop the fight, U.S. Marsahl J. Jerome Bullock said. "A courtroom clerk had to come in and help my deputy to separate the women. I understand that one of them had been slapped and bitten."
When the clerk came in, "Miss Wiltse was backed against the wall and the deputy marshal was standing in front of her with one of his arms locked around Miss White's head," the witness said.
Neither White nor Wiltse could be reached for comment.
After the two women were pulled apart, Judge Revercomb ordered his courtroom clerks to telephone the three defense lawyers and the assistant U.S. attorney in the case to ask them to return to the courtroom.
But before all the calls could be made, the jury room was again filled with the sounds of battle as White and Wiltse tried to resume their fight.
Two additional deputy marshals were summoned to the courtroom to stand guard over the jury until the judge could declare a mistrial.
Bullock said the incident was the first time in recent memory that jurors have used fisticuffs to settle their disagreements.
"It is not unusual for jurors to strongly disagree with each other, but it is highly unusual for them to get into a scuffle," he said.
On trial were Donnell Bennet, Donnell Watts and Jeffrey James, charged with the armed robbery of three Georgetown University students in March 1979. The students had been robbed on the front steps of a church as they were returning home from a night class.