A D.C. Superior Court judge yesterday declared a mistrial in a two-week-long rape case after two jurors began drinking in the jury room during deliberations, became boisterous and refused to vote on the case.
Judge Fred B. Ugast stopped the trial after jury foreman Robert W. Smoot sent him a note which read: "Your honor, we cannot reach a decision in this case unless two jurors are replaced. Is that possible?"
At the bottom of the note was scribbled, "Drinking problem."
The jury, which included 11 women and Smoot, had begun its second day of deliberations in the trial of three juveniles charged with raping a 14-year-old girl last June in Southeast Washington.
Ten of the jurors apparently were ready to vote in the case, according to foreman Smoot, but two others who had secretly been pouring drinks under the jury table refused to proceed.
"Everybody tried to explain and talk with them to get them to go along with the rest of us, to consider things and be reasonable," Smoot said in an interview. "We had no chance.
"They would pour 7-Up in the cups, then go into their purses and pour the whiskey under the table into the 7-Up. At first I didn't [notice] until I began to smell it," Smoot said.
When Ugast learned of the unusual situation, he immediately ordered the jurors to come into the courtroom one by one, where he questioned them individually. Ten of the jurors each identified two of their colleagues by number as the ones who were drinking in the juror room. One was said to also have been drinking during the latter stages of the trial during court recesses.
Ugast later told the 10 remaining jurors that because of "inappropriate conduct by one or two jurors . . . I have no alternative but to declare a mistrial in this case." He said the two jurors had been able to "thwart our system of justice."
Court records and officials identified the two jurors against whom the allegations were made as Juanita Ross and Virginia Starks. Ross declined to comment on the mistrial, while Starks could not be reached for comment.
"I feel badly," Ugast told a reporter. "As unfortunate as it is, I think it's an extraordinary situation and an aberration."
Because of the mistrial, the case must be reheard before an entirely new jury. Ugast asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to determine whether contempt proceedings should be initiated against the two jurors and said he would consider issuing such an order himself.
The three teen-agers charged in this case were tried as adults. They had been charged with rape, carnal knowledge and taking indecent liberties with a minor child. According to court records, the rape victim told police she was walking in the 5100 block of Southern Avenue SE last June when one of the youths said he wanted to talk to her.
She followed him to his house, court records show, where she was grabbed by the hand and led downstairs. There, she told the police, she was forced onto a couch and raped. When she screamed for help, she said, one of the three youths would strike her with a pool stick.
Grandison Hill, one of the three defense attorneys in the case, said the jury room incident "just shows the lack of respect some members of the community have. We worked hard as hell in that trial. Everybody was working long hours, late at night and then to have all this go into the trash can with the bottle."
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Bowman, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment on the mistrial.
The jury had deliberated since Wednesday morning in the case. Jurors serving in Superior Court usually receive a pamphlet that prohibits the use of alcoholic beveraged in the jury lounge. "Please remember," the pamphlet says, "that a clear mind is necessary for . . . the judgment of a juror will be required to make."