D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert M. Scott, presiding in the trial of 10 young persons accused of slaying Catherine Fuller, ordered that the jury be sequestered yesterday. He had ruled earlier in the day that one juror, whose daughter knows three of the defendants, may continue to deliberate in the case.
A second day of extraordinary twists in the trial was marked by repeated requests for a mistrial by defense attorneys, who argued that the jury was "tainted" and "infected" by the dramatic revelation Thursday about the juror's daughter, the publicity it spawned, and the juror's continued presence in the case.
But Scott, appearing impatient with the lawyers, abruptly denied the requests that the juror be removed and that he declare a mistrial.
Several defense attorneys said that Scott's decisions had given them the first genuine issue on which to seek appeals in the case if their clients are convicted.
The jurors completed their fifth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict yesterday -- a day on which the spotlight was suddenly turned on the jurors themselves, up until now a group of seven women and five men who sat in silence as the case unfolded before them.
Five jurors who sent a note to the judge stating that they had heard media reports and comments about Thursday's revelations were summoned into the courtroom and questioned by Scott.
The jury foreman said he had heard on a "packed subway" yesterday morning "something about a rotten juror." Another juror said she had heard a television report about a "possible mistrial."
At the day's end, the judge told the jurors that U.S. marshals would drive them home to get clothing and they would be sequested for the balance of their deliberations. Lodging jurors overnight under court supervision is a rare action in Superior Court.
The dramatic turn of events was set in motion Thursday night by a sobbing teen-ager, who informed the court that the daughter of juror Rita Weaver "went with" some of the defendants. Weaver's 15-year-old daughter Natasha, summoned to the witness stand by Scott, acknowledged that she knew three defendants, but said she had never discussed that fact with her mother.
Rita Weaver, who also took the witness stand, asserted that she "did not know" her daughter "was acquainted with any of the people here on trial."
After hearing all the testimony Thursday night, Scott asserted that he had "no question but that the teen-aged girl is an absolute liar" and yesterday he repeated that he believed juror Weaver had "the utmost integrity" and could sit impartially in the case.
But most of the defense attorneys disagreed vigorously, and their battle with Scott in court yesterday involved some of the bitterest skirmishes in the trial.
Attorney Frederick Sullivan argued that the publicity about Thursday's events "makes it impossible" for the defendants to get a fair trial, and assuming that jurors have not seen the publicity is "taking the ostrich approach."
Attorney Steven Kiersh argued that Weaver's discovery that her daughter knows three defendants could harm her impartiality. "If someone came up and said, 'Your daughter knows a bunch of these men who committed a heinous act on a woman,' there's no way you would not be thinking about your daughter," Kiersh told the judge, who angrily cut him off.
Scott then said, "It may be the Court of Appeals will agree with you . . . . It is my judgment all the jurors are perfectly qualified to serve. That terminates the matter."
Meanwhile, both the U.S. attorney's office and at least two defense attorneys began investigating the teen-ager whose story about Weaver set the dramatic events in motion. Judge Scott had warned her before she testified that "anything not true subjects you to a perjury charge . . . . It is a felony."
Even Scott's sequester order sparked a cry for a mistrial from defense attorney Wendell Robinson, who told Scott that he could see "discontent" on several jurors' faces and they might now "take a negative attitude."
Outside the courtroom, another lawyer said the sequestering is "coercive. It communicates to jurors, 'We're snatching you from your homes and we want a verdict.' "
D.C. Superior Court jurors have been sequestered at least twice in the last four years -- in the 1981 murder case against Bernard Welch, who was convicted of murdering physician Michael Halberstam, and in the 1981 case against three D.C. men accused in the assassination of an Iranian diplomat. Those juries were sequestered during both the trial and deliberations.
When jurors are chosen for a case they are questioned extensively about whether they know any of the defendants, and attorneys may seek the removal of any who know or have connections with the accused ensure an unbiased jury.
In the 1978 bribery and conspiracy trial of millionaire developer Dominic Antonelli Jr., a juror's failure to reveal that her father had worked for Antonelli's parking lot firm and had been fired caused a mistrial. A federal appeals court ruled that the juror "intentionally had withheld information" that might have led defense attorneys to exclude her. Since then the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the mere failure to answer a question is not enough to trigger a mistrial and that defense attorneys must show actual bias by the juror.