When the jurors in the trial of Terrence Johnson announced Friday night that they were deadlocked, they were in turmoil over the youth's responsibility in the death of Prince George's county police officer AlbertM. Claggett IV, one of two county policemen johnson shot to death, one juror said yesterday.
Breaking a silence to which the jurors had clung since Saturday, the juror said that on Friday night one juror was holding out for a murder conviction in the Claggett killing. A second juror sought acquittal on all the charges in that shooting and 10 jurors stood firm for a manslaughter conviction.
The juror who agreed to be interviewed also said that at the point the jury had agreed to acquit Johnson in the fatal shooting of the second policeman, James Brian Swart. But a second juror disputed that, saying that just before deliberations broke up that night, "it was like an explosion. Things fell apart." This juror would not elaborate or discuss other aspects of the deliberations.
On saturday morning-after what the first juror described as a night of individual "crying, thinking, praying"-the jury met again and the two jurors who had opposed the man slaughter conviction in Claggett's slaying "came around" in less than an hour of deliberation.
"They had thought about it ..., that it [manslaughter] was the proper verdict," said the juror, who insisted on anonymity.
By 11:05 a.m. Saturday the jurors were in a Prince George's County courtroom, announcing verdicts that acquitted the 16-year-old Johnson on murder charges in the shootings of both Claggett and Officer James Brian Swart. He was found quilty of two lesser offenses-manslaughter and the illegal use of a handgun in Claggett's death.
No one on the jury, the juror said, felt "Johnson was being brutally beaten" by Officer Claggett-as Johnson supporters had contended-when the youth grabbed the officer's gun and shot him.
But "he was being pushed around ... and he overreacted," the juror said.
Because of this belief, the juror said, the 10 jurors held firm for a manslaughter conviction because they thought Johnson's actions "fit in" with the definition of manslaughter they had been given. The juror described this definition as an intentional homicide done in sudden passion or heat of blood.
The verdict has caused a furor in the police department, with the prosecutor contending that it was a "compromise" among the jurors and one police union leader saying it means that two officers' lives "arenht worth a f---."
The juror who spoke yesterday said, "It breaks my heart when I hear those comments. The verdict was not a compromise. We were supposed to be fair and impartial, and I believe we were."
The juror-who repeatedly stated, "I'm speaking only for myself"-said it would be impossible to point to one particular piece of testimony as the crucial one.
"It was just the overall testimony.
I couldn't pin it down," the juror said.
The jury first dealt with the slaying of Swart, who was shot outside the police station fingerprinting room after Claggett was killed. The defense contended that Johnson was temporarily insane when he fired those shots.
"My mind is totally boggled on that," the juror said, adding that there was "not a lot of conflict" over the decision that Johnson should be acquitted on all counts in that death.
The juror said the deliberations were never marked by outbursts or anger, but more by a buildup of tension that sometimes resulted in "jurors looking at one another and just crying."
"Most of our tears were for ourselves, to have to be in this situation and make this decision," the juror said.
"It feels terrible to think that everybody wants to hang you," the juror said, pointing to denouncement of the verdict by the prosecution, the police and the defense.