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Jury problems surface in Florida terror trial

A federal jury was told Friday to forget several days of deliberations in a long-running terrorism case and start from scratch after one of the panelists became ill and had to be replaced.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A new jury problem surfaced Friday in the terrorism conspiracy trial of six men when panel members asked a federal judge to remove a juror because she supposedly refused to deliberate.

A few hours after an ill juror was replaced, a note signed by the jury foreman in the “Liberty City Six” case said a female juror “refuses to engage in discussions based on the evidence or the law” and that this could be “unfair to the defendants,” according to U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard. The note said the juror was disruptive and had made comments offensive to others.

“Please help us, judge,” the note said, adding the juror “feels deliberating is a waste of time.”

The juror problems were only the latest difficulty in the case, which has gone through two mistrials when earlier juries were unable to agree on verdicts. This third trial has taken over two months and comes nearly three years after the six men were arrested in June 2006.

The six are charged with conspiring with al-Qaida to destroy Chicago’s 110-story Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices around the country. The plan never got beyond the discussion stage and the group never obtained any weaponry or explosives necessary for such attacks.

The group’s leader, 35-year-old Narseal Batiste, testified that he only went along with terrorism discussions because he wanted money from an FBI informant posing as an al-Qaida emissary. Defense attorney also accused the FBI of orchestrating the entire fictitious case to make career-enhancing terrorism arrests.

Juror feels 'under attack'
The group became known by the name of their neighborhood of Liberty City, an impoverished area of Miami.

In court Friday, the juror accused of not wanting to deliberate also sent her own note, complaining that she feels under “attack” from the others and hinted she may have made comments about the law that were “misinterpreted.”

After summarizing the notes in court, Lenard summoned the jurors back into court and sternly ordered them to follow the law and obey her instructions regarding their duty to deliberate. Lenard told the panel to return Monday.

“This may clear up the problem,” Lenard said outside the jury’s presence. “Maybe not.”

Earlier Friday, Lenard asked each person to “wipe from your mind” all memories of the deliberations that began Monday. Lenard granted a defense request to replace the ill juror with an alternate, rather than continuing with only 11 on the panel as prosecutors suggested.

The jurors were also required to turn over any notes taken in the deliberations. The racially mixed jury now consists of 10 women and two men, compared with nine women and three men previously. The juror who became ill was an older black man who said his doctor recommended he not return to court until next week.