Four dismissed in Black Souls trial; one juror let go after fainting

Friday, 01 December 2017, 04:27:54 PM. Four jurors were dismissed from the case for apparent bias. Another juror fainted in the jury room and left the courthouse in an ambulance.

The trial of alleged top leaders of the Black Souls street gang took a bizarre turn two days into jury deliberations, as nearly half the jury was dismissed in a matter of hours Thursday — four for showing signs of bias, and a fifth who fainted in the jury room and left the courthouse in an ambulance.

Judge Michael B. McHale seemed especially piqued Thursday after tossing two jurors who were accused by the jury forewoman, respectively, of being racist and of having ties to the Black Souls.

The judge’s mood shifted to bemusement an hour later, when he returned to the courtroom to report that he’d dismissed another juror who had passed out in the jury room.

Within the hour, as stunned prosecutors and defense lawyers milled in the courtroom, McHale returned again with still another note, from the forewoman and another juror, who asked to be removed because they believed jury instructions were “structured in a style to come to one verdict.”

“I think it’s obvious to this court that they cannot follow the law and they’re off!” McHale barked. The judge stormed back to chambers, refusing to respond to objections from both defense lawyers and prosecutors, as he rushed to call another pair of alternate jurors to the courthouse.

The quick succession of dismissals left only one alternate juror from an extra-large group of eight alternates — a typical jury will have two to four — that McHale had ordered seated at the start of the trial.

The six defendants, apparently pleased with the chaos — and the prospect that at least two jurors had been leaning their way — grinned as they were led out of the courtroom to wait for the alternates to arrive.

Jury members had sat through nine weeks of testimony in the trial, and since Tuesday night had been sequestered together at a hotel, while the alternates had been sent home with instructions to avoid watching news or discussing the case. Deliberations will start over from scratch, with jurors who had sat through the first two days required to dispose of any notes on their discussions.

The case against the Black Souls took four years to get to trial, with only alleged kingpin Cornel Dawson and five of this top lieutenants the lone remaining defendants among nearly two dozen members indicted in 2013. The case — the first to go to trial under state racketeering laws passed in 2011 — had been complex, with jurors sent into deliberations with nearly 70 pages of jury instructions.

As a klatch of defense lawyers ate a late lunch while waiting for jurors to arrive, one contemplated the tumult of the previous few hours and observed to no one in particular: “We just swapped out half the jury today.”

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