Real Life Runaway Jury?

Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 05:54 am
April 8, 2006, 1:40AM
Prosecutor's 'tirade' criticized
3 jurors say remarks offended them after they found a defendant not guilty

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

A Harris County prosecutor's angry reaction to losing a case is drawing criticism from some jurors, who say he accused them of breaking the law after they found the defendant not guilty.

The jurors say Doug Richards told them, "You have violated your oath as jurors today," before he walked out of the jury room after the trial last week.

"I felt like I had lawfully done my duty, and now I was being punished for it and I was being threatened," said juror Bradford William Yules.

In a county where only about 20 percent of those summoned for jury duty showed up last year, according to the District Clerk's Office, Yules said such an experience could make people less likely to serve again.

District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal acknowledged receiving a letter of complaint from Yules, but said he thinks the matter has been blown out of proportion.

"I told Richards that we don't disparage jurors and that you've got to believe the jury system works," he said, adding that he is satisfied with Richards' explanation.

The trial involved a 29-year-old man charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a January 2005 incident that occurred after negotiations over the purchase of a $200 pillow-top mattress turned sour.

A merchant was struck in the shin by a bullet, but Rene Villalobos Velez said he fired in self-defense because the merchant had threatened him with a three-foot-long pipe. The prosecutor maintained that Velez fired through a door and was never in danger.

The three jurors who spoke with the Houston Chronicle said that, although they weren't entirely convinced of Velez's innocence, they didn't believe Richards had proved his case. They also wondered why Richards hadn't sought a lesser charge, such as illegal possession of a weapon, since Velez did not have a concealed handgun permit.

Visiting Judge Mary Bacon allowed Yules to address the defendant on March 30 after the not-guilty verdict was read. Yules said he told Velez that it sickened him to vote for acquittal, but that the jury saw no alternative because it had a reasonable doubt about his guilt.

"But had you been charged with illegally possessing the handgun, you would now be convicted," Yules said he told Velez.

Before leaving, the jury met with Richards and the defense team. Instead of a discussion about the trial, however, the three jurors said the panel was subjected to a lecture from the prosecutor.

"He broke into a tirade about the strength of his case, and that we had screwed up," Yules said, adding that one juror tried to reassure Richards that he had done a good job. "He said we ignored the facts. Then he turned around and stomped out."

"He didn't like our verdict and he lost control," said juror Juanita A. Byers.

"He said we ignored the laws and the facts" said jury foreman Terri Hebert who, like her two colleagues, said she found the remarks "offensive."

Richards' recollection varies only slightly.

"I would disagree with the characterization that I lost control," he said. "But I do stand by the fact that there's no way they could have been listening to the evidence in this case and still have reached the same verdict."

Defense attorney Rogdrick Manor also was present.

"I've never seen anything like that before," Manor said. "But knowing Doug personally, he's a fine prosecutor and I'd hate to see anything happen to him. It's just unfortunate."

Richards, a 2004 graduate of the South Texas College of Law, remains unapologetic.

"It's not about being a bad sport," he said. "But I do this for a living and I take it very seriously. I love (jurors) for serving their county. But I also expect that when they take the oath that says they can follow the law, I expect them to do it."

Rosenthal said he thinks Yules made too much of the incident because he was upset about unflattering remarks made in court about the California legal system.

Yules, who practiced law there before moving to Texas in 1989, acknowledged taking offense at the comments, but said his complaint is about juries not getting the respect they deserve.

"Where I come from, (messing) with the jury is like (messing) with the Virgin Mary," he said.

Robert Schuwerk, a legal ethics expert who teaches at the University of Houston Law Center, said Richards' remarks may have violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

The rules prohibit lawyers from harassing jurors or attempting to influence their possible future jury service.

"One of the hardest things a jury has to do in a criminal case is to tell the prosecution that they don't believe they made their case," said Schuwerk. "So I think that decision is entitled to a great deal of respect when it happens."
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 1,865 • Replies: 5
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Merry Andrew
Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 06:45 am
Is Charlie Rosenthal still the D.A. in Harris County,
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Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 06:56 am
He still be, merry andrew.
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Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 10:52 am
Totally unprofessional on the prosecutor's part. This kind of conduct calls for an ethics inquiry.
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Merry Andrew
Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 01:15 pm
I'm intrigued by this statement in the story:

In a county where only about 20 percent of those summoned for jury duty showed up last year, according to the District Clerk's Office, Yules said such an experience could make people less likely to serve again.

Does that mean that in TX it's possible to just ignore a summons for jury duty without suffering any consequences, e.g. a hefty fine? You couldn't do that in most states that I know of.
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Reply Sat 8 Apr, 2006 01:27 pm
I know lots of people who throw the summons away. I have to show up for jury duty on the 26th. They call me rather often.
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