Role-playing and nine hours of tough talk were needed to persuade one holdout to join his fellow jurors in acquitting a Bethesda jeweler on charges of homicide and reckless endangerment.
"I was the lone juror who held out on the last undecided charge of manslaughter," Bruce Campbell said yesterday. "Everyone else said the jeweler was not guilty." Campbell said he initially believed jeweler Vahag Babayan was guilty of manslaughter for shooting Steven Powell.
Powell, who had lost a leg in childhood, was one of two men killed June 16 by Babayan after an armed robbery.
Late Thursday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury acquitted Babayan of all charges connected with the deaths of Powell and Donald Shelton, who had robbed Babayan at gunpoint in his store in the 7700 block of Wisconsin Avenue.
The deliberations, about 18 hours over two days, were difficult and soul-searching, several jurors said. The last nine hours were devoted solely to persuading Campbell to acquit Babayan of manslaughter. He held out until 10 minutes before the unanimous verdicts were announced, juror Judy Frazier said.
"We wanted him to walk out feeling comfortable," said Frazier, 30, of Gaithersburg. "It took a long time of back-and-forth discussions."
Several jurors said the verdicts should not be construed as a message of any kind to the community. "It was not our intent to promote to people that they can kill," said Frazier, a telecommunications executive. "We never felt that was our objective."
Juror Janet Olding, 46, of Rockville, said she hoped the Babayan acquittal would not discourage prosecutors from pursuing similar incidents. "It's very important these cases go to trial. We're not a jungle or the wild, wild West. We do not want to encourage vigilantism."
Olding said the jury "was not saying that Babayan was right in killing two people. But our legal system says someone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The state did not prove that."
Montgomery County State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner said his office will seek indictments if a merchant or homeowner shoots someone during a robbery or burglary. "The law constantly needs to send out the message that we value human life. You cannot kill somebody to get property back."
Campbell, 39, said he and the other jurors agreed that Babayan was not guilty of second-degree murder in Powell's death.
But Campbell, a management analyst with the federal government, said he wasn't convinced the jeweler should be acquitted of manslaughter.
So, the jurors said they re-created, step by step, what they believed happened when Babayan ran up to a parked car and began firing at Shelton and Powell.
"We pulled out the autopsy reports," Campbell said. "We role-played the different positions of the defendants and the trajectory of bullets inside the car."
Said jury foreman Barry Cone, "I was sitting in a chair and turning my body to simulate various body movements and what reactions Babayan might have."
After several hours, Campbell said he concluded there was reasonable doubt that Babayan intentionally killed Powell. "I believe Powell was hit by a stray bullet" aimed at Shelton, Campbell said. "That would not indicate intent to kill, but accidental, which is not what Babayan was being tried for. There was a lot of movement inside the car. It's hard to say if it was defensive or offensive. We have to give the benefit of the doubt to Babayan."