The jury considering whether I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is guilty of perjury lost one of its members after nearly three days of deliberation yesterday, but the presiding judge ordered the panel to continue working to reach a decision.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton dismissed the juror, an art curator in her 70s, after she disclosed to her peers that she had come in contact over the weekend with information about the case of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.
The jury foreperson reported that to Walton, who interviewed the jurors and determined that the female juror had not intentionally sought to ignore his orders to avoid contact with media coverage and all other information about the Libby case.
Walton agreed with a defense request that the jury continue deliberating with 11 members, rebuffing Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who asked that the judge call back one of two alternates and begin deliberations again. The jury had been deliberating since Wednesday afternoon.
"I just don't think it would be appropriate to throw away those 2 1/2 days of deliberations," Walton said. "I don't have anything to suggest that this jury is anything but conscientious and can continue."
If the jury were to lose another member, the judge said, he would call upon one of the two remaining alternates and instruct jurors to restart deliberations.
According to courthouse sources, the woman sought information that led her to material about the case over the weekend and realized yesterday morning that it was inappropriate to do so. Courthouse officials said Walton instructed the dismissed juror not to talk to the media until the case concludes.
After the juror was dismissed, the panel completed a fourth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict.
Libby, 56, is charged with making false statements, perjury and obstructing a probe into who may have criminally leaked information about undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media in 2003. He is not charged with the leak, but Fitzgerald has accused him of lying to conceal his role in discussing her identity with reporters.
Plame's name and classified CIA role were disclosed in a syndicated column on July 14, 2003, days after her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly accused the administration of twisting intelligence to justify war with Iraq.
On Feb. 8, another juror revealed that she had inadvertently seen a photo and headline about witness Tim Russert, NBC News's Washington bureau chief, in The Washington Post's Style section. Federal marshals have been cutting all references to the trial from jurors' morning newspapers but had missed that story.
During questioning of potential jurors before the trial began, the juror dismissed yesterday said she grew up in New York, attended Syracuse University and Mills College, and obtained a doctorate in art history from the University of London. She said she worked for a decade at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as a curator of prints and drawings.
In questioning to select a jury, she said she was sympathetic to what would become one of the defense's central contentions: that people can have innocent distortions of their memory.