A juror fighting for acquittal of a defendant apparently violated a federal judge's instructions on jury deliberations and may have tainted the conviction of a Virginia man last month on illegal firearms charges.
The juror, Clifton Craven of Reston, argued with 11 other members of the panel for two days in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, contending that the defendant had been encouraged by government agents to commit firearms offenses and deserved to be found innocent.
After an overnight break in the often-turbulent discussions, Craven told his fellow jurors he had made at least one telephone call to gather outside information to shore up his point of view and related the gist of what he had learned, three members of the jury said in interviews. Finally, Craven voted with the others for conviction on three counts.
Federal rules strictly forbid jurors to consider any information in reaching a verdict other than that presented as evidence during the trial. Several experienced trial lawyers said the apparent violation could be grounds for a new trial for the defendant, who faces up to 25 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
Craven declined to comment on the incident.
Several jurors also said Craven at one point left the jury room during deliberations and spent between 5 and 10 minutes in the hallway after a particularly heated debate over the issue of whether federal agents had entrapped the defendant.
Leaving a jury room during deliberations is not, in itself, a violation of federal trial rules, but it is considered extremely rare, according to several veteran attorneys. More serious, the lawyers said, is the consulting of individuals outside the courthouse.
"A jury is supposed to rely on its collective experiences when it gets back to the jury room," said former U.S. attorney William B. Cummings of Alexandria. "Bringing in outside information opens up all sorts of improprieties. The outcome is not the point; it's the appearance of justice that matters."
"It was obvious he Craven had done some work," said one juror, Andrew Fleming. "I was extremely pleased he did it--it showed a genuine interest."
Fleming called it "unfortunate, in my opinion," that Craven left the jury room.
The defendant, Randy McGavran of Fairfax County, was convicted on Jan. 15 on three felony counts in connection with the manufacture of pipe bombs in exchange for the promise of methamphetamines, a stimulant known by the street name "crank."
McGavran, whose bond was immediately revoked by U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr., is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 12.
A request for a new trial by McGavran's court-appointed attorney, Stephen P. Halbrook, on grounds that Craven had left the jury room was denied Jan. 29 by Bryan. The judge held that fact alone was insufficient to cause the verdict to be overturned.
Craven's telephone call to obtain outside information was not brought to the judge's attention.
Jurors' raised voices could be heard through the closed jury-room door several times, Halbrook said later. Some jurors interviewed said the results of repeated preliminary votes were 11-to-1 for conviction, with Craven the lone holdout.
One juror, who asked not to be identified, said Craven angrily tried to convince his fellow jurors that trial testimony showed McGavran had been effectively coerced to provide pipe bombs by an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and by a paid government informant.
McGavran, an acknowledged drug user, occasionally had received methamphetamines from the informant, Brian Duckett, but had later had his supply cut off by Duckett, according to testimony. McGavran allegedly was promised more drugs in the future on condition he cooperate in providing illegal pipe bombs.
After the overnight break in jury deliberations, Craven told other jurors he had researched dictionary definitions of such terms as "coerced" and "entrapment." He also said he had contacted an acquaintance about the effects of drug use and withdrawal, without discussing specifics of the McGavran case.
The next morning, according to several jurors, Craven related the results of his research to the jury in an attempt to sway others to his side.
Defense attorney Halbrook said there was no trial testimony, by experts or others, about the effects of drug use or whether drugs might have influenced McGavran to commit illegal acts. Legal--as opposed to dictionary--definitions of some of the terms at issue in the trial were furnished by Judge Bryan in his instructions to the jury.
At about noon on Jan. 15, the second day of deliberations, Craven left the jury room briefly. Later that day, the jurors sent a note to Bryan saying they were hopelessly deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict.
After receiving additional instructions from Bryan, the jury resumed its discussions and later that day convicted McGavran of possession of two pipe bombs, interstate transportation of gunpowder and illegal dealing in firearms.
The jurors said they were unable to reach a verdict on a fourth count of the indictment, charging McGavran with possession of an illegal firearm (a third pipe bomb) on Oct. 14 last year.