A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday ordered two jurors to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court for allegedly drinking in the jury room while deliberating in a recent rape case.
Judge Fred B. Ugast told Juanita L. Ross and Virginia E. Starks to appear before him on May 28 to answer allegations that they were "consuming alcoholic beverages in jury room 43" on April 29 and 30.
Both women had served on a jury considering the case of three juveniles charged with raping a 14-year-old girl last june in Southeast Washington. Ugast declared a mistrial in the case on April 30 after the jury foreman sent a note reading: "Your honor, we cannot reach a decision in this case unless two jurors are replaced. Is that possible?" At the bottom of the note was scribbled, "Drinking problem."
When questioned by the judge, members of the jury subsequently identified the two women as those who allegedly had been drinking. Jury foreman Robert W. Smoot said in an interview that the jury apparently was ready to vote in the case, but the two jurors who allegedly had been pouring drinks under the jury table refused to proceed.
Starks' attorney, William J. Temple, said yesterday that Starks' "adamantly denies consuming any alcoholic beverage at any time during the trial before Judge Ugast.She doesn't drink at all. She feels strenously [that] she is being punished for being one of the two jurors who held out for acquittal." Ross could not be reached for comment.
Because of the mistrial, the two-week-long case probably will have to be tried again at a future date.