Deadlocked jury to continue deliberations

March 29, 2011 2:47:38 PM PDT
There was a major development in the corruption trial of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole. Jurors in the case apparently can't reach a unanimous verdict. The jury broke Tuesday without any decision in the Eversole's federal trial. Just before noon Tuesday, jurors sent a note to Judge David Hittner, saying they were unable to reach a verdict. Hittner responded by telling them to continue deliberating, but jurors responded with a second note, saying that the additional time wouldn't help.

A third note was then sent to the judge from the jurors, which said the areas they needed to address include:

    1. Re-stating the argument that this was a conspiracy.
    2. What was the relationship between Surface and Eversole from their first meeting until 1999, and did the pattern of behavior change?
    3. Friendship or not, where do you draw the link to justify continuing to accept things of value (as an elected official) with someone who does business with the county?
When our legal analyst read that last question, he knew there was no hope.

"This is a hung jury. You have jurors there who bought the friendship defense, that clearly say there is a line between friendship and criminal responsibility and we don't know where that line is," KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy said.

Jurors began deliberations at about 9:30am Tuesday in their third day of weighing in the evidence against Eversole. They deliberated all day Monday and about four hours on Friday.

To try and convince the jury to move towards a unanimous verdict, Hittner took the very unusual step of giving lawyers a do-over on their closing arguments.

"It's very rare, rarely do judges allow this. Most judges would send the jury back there and let them stay back there for a couple more hours," Androphy said.

Prosecutors told jurors that friendship line they asked about "was passed long ago." Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Mason asked jurors:

"How cold Mr. Eversole not be influenced by these large items from Mr. Surface? Yeah, they were friends, but there was a dark side to this friendship."

Defense Attorney Rusty Hardin charged back, saying, "If you the jurors disapprove of something or don't like something or don't think it's something a public elected official should do, that respectfully is not the issue. The issue is has what they charged him with been proven to you beyond a reasonable doubt."

Then it was back to the jury room for more deliberations before they were released shortly after 4pm.

Eversole is accused of taking bribes of more than $100,000 in cash, gifts and travel from developer Michael Surface, in exchange for helping Surface win contracts with Harris County. The evidence against Eversole was presented at trial, that trial lasting about three weeks.

We have not seen Eversole enter the federal building this morning. Judge David Hitner told Eversole and his attorney didn't have to be here during deliberations, only that he and attorneys should be able to arrive within 10 minutes once called.

Eversole and his attorney elected not to put any evidence on before resting their case. They didn't call a single witness. Rusty Hardin tells Eyewitness News the government did not prove its case.

If convicted he could face up to 21 years in a federal prison.

Surface was granted a separate trial, scheduled to start this fall.

Monday's developments

There is little Jerry Eversole can do now. He showed up for court 30 minutes before jurors and like the rest of us simply waited on a closed door on the eighth floor to open.

"I feel fine. It's a big day for me," Eversole told us.

Eversole spent hours waiting in the cafeteria with his wife and friends. We didn't see much of his lawyers today. Nor much of prosecutors. They will be here quickly when a verdict is reached. Until then, Eversole is left to consider what comes next.

If he's found guilty on any of the counts, he faces federal prison.

"If Jerry Eversole gets convicted, he's going to prison at a minimum of four to five years," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

Eversole would not go to prison right away; federal convicts rarely do. It will take months to finish pre-sentencing work and there's also the possibility of appeals. But in the meantime, it's unclear if he could keep his job while all that is going on.

The County Attorney's Office certainly believes Federal Judge David Hittner could remove Eversole from office if found guilty. But as we all wait, that's still a big if.

This jury could agree with Hardin that there is too much reasonable doubt here and acquit the long-time commissioner. Eversole would be out of trouble in federal court, but not out of trouble completely.

The county attorney is looking at the case to see if he needs to be removed from office and the district attorney could take another look as well.

The jury asked two questions today: they asked for a list of the nearly 300 pieces of evidence and they asked for the legal definition of 'bribery.'

Jurors went home for the day shortly before 5pm and they'll be back at it Tuesday at 9:30am.

We're continuing to follow the case and will bring you the very latest on Eyewitness News and here on abc13.com.


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