The U.S. Court of Appeals here yesterday overturned the convictions of nine members of the Black Hebrews religious sect, including the group's U.S. leader, ruling that the trial judge erred in dismissing a juror who said he couldn't "go along" with the way the federal racketeering statute was written and "the way the evidence has been presented."

"The dismissal of this juror violated the {defendants'} constitutional right to a unanimous verdict," said Circuit Judge Abner J. Mikva, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel that included Douglas H. Ginsburg and Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.

The judges' decision voids the nearly 400 separate verdicts reached by the remaining 11 jurors in what is believed to be the longest and most expensive trial ever held in U.S. District Court here, lasting through 13 weeks of testimony and eight weeks of jury deliberations and costing more than $1 million.

In the trial, at which Chief U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. presided, the nine were convicted of racketeering, fraud and numerous other charges for operating an international crime ring that trafficked in millions of dollars worth of stolen airline tickets and used bogus credit cards and worthless checks to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise.

"We are aware of the length and cost of the trial . . . . We are aware of the painstaking, conscientious and sensitive manner in which the district court handled the peculiar problems of the trial," Mikva wrote.

But he added, "The record evidence discloses a real possibility that one juror . . . for whatever reason, was not persuaded that the government had met its evidentiary burden."

All nine defendants in the case, including Warren Brown who is also known as Prince Asiel and is the U.S. leader of the Black Hebrews, are now serving federal prison sentences.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said late yesterday, "We are reviewing the court's opinion very carefully and we will decide on our next step after we finish that review."

It is expected that the government will retry the nine men who were charged in the 68-count indictment, sources said.

It was almost exactly a year ago when juror Bernard Spriggs sent Judge Robinson a note -- after five weeks of deliberation -- saying he was "not able to discharge my duties as a member of this jury."

During questioning by Robinson, Spriggs said, "It's the way the RICO {Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations} conspiracy act reads." He later said, "If the evidence was presented in a fashion in which the law is written, then, maybe, I would be able to discharge my duties."

After a lengthy hearing, Robinson then dismissed Spriggs and the 11 remaining jurors continued their deliberations.

"When a request for dismissal stems from the juror's view of the sufficiency of the evidence . . . a judge may not discharge the juror: the judge must either declare a mistrial or send the juror back to deliberations with instructions that the jury continue to attempt to reach agreement," Mikva wrote.

E. Edward Bruce, appointed by the appeals court to argue the case there, said he was "very pleased" by the court's decision to "grant most of the relief we were seeking. We were very confident that we would prevail in this case."

The men whose convictions were overturned, in addition to Brown, are J.C. Vortis, leader of the Washington-Baltimore mission of the Black Hebrews; Brown's assistants, James B. Stone and Gerald Bethea, both of Chicago; and Washington members Gregory Coles, Thomas Cavis, Darryl Grissom, Kenneth E. Robinson and Cordell Debardelaben.

The Black Hebrews, officially known as the Original African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem, claim to be descended from the original 12 Hebrew Tribes. They preach that the American way of life oppresses blacks and that through salvation, they can be "delivered" to Israel.