WASHINGTON -- After a one-day delay in jury deliberations, Sen. Ted Stevens' corruption trial will resume again this morning with an alternate juror replacing the one who left last week for her father's funeral in California.
Judge Emmet Sullivan paused proceedings Friday morning after the juror learned the previous night that her father had died and she needed to depart to attend his funeral. He had hoped to bring the juror back to continue deliberating with the other 11, but couldn't reach her Friday or over the weekend to determine whether she would still be available.
Instead of the trial being delayed any further, an alternate will take the missing juror's place and jurors will continue deliberating this morning. The juror who's in California will be dismissed.
"We have four alternates for this reason," Judge Sullivan said in court Sunday evening, in a rare weekend hearing. The four alternate jurors have sat through the entire trial.
The delay pushes a verdict in the case one day closer to Election Day, when Alaska voters also have a say in determining the Republican senator's fate. Stevens, who was indicted in late July, asked for an expedited trial date in the hopes of going to voters with an acquittal in hand, but his trial is now entering its sixth week. On Nov. 4, Stevens faces the most competitive race of his Senate career, against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat.
The Justice Department was fine with the alternate juror, said prosecutor Nicholas Marsh, especially since the jury is "in the infancy of deliberations."
Stevens' attorneys offered only mild objections to the alternate, but did say they preferred to proceed with 11 jurors. The deliberations are at a "sensitive juncture," said one of Stevens' lawyers, Robert Cary, and they were reluctant to force the jurors to start over.
But Sullivan said he was leery of proceeding with just 11 jurors, based on the issues that have already arisen with the jury.
Their first day of deliberations last week, jurors asked to go home early because they were stressed and needed "clarity." The second day, Thursday, 11 of the jurors complained in a note about a 12th juror and asked her to be removed from the panel for being rude and prone to "violent outbursts with other jurors." The judge resolved the problem with a stern lecture on civility and the jurors left Thursday afternoon all smiles.
Then, just hours later on Thursday evening, the juror learned her father had died and Sullivan halted the proceedings until he could figure out how to handle the issue of the missing juror.
Federal juries are allowed to proceed with fewer than 12 jurors, and while it's common to reach a verdict with just 11, it's almost unheard of to proceed with fewer than that. An alternate does require the whole jury panel to start from scratch, however, and although jurors had only deliberated about a day and a half so far, they appeared to be moving at a pretty fast clip. Jurors passed the judge a note Thursday afternoon saying that they had already reviewed all the evidence.
The jury of eight women and four men must review seven felony counts to determine whether Stevens is guilty of lying on his Senate disclosure forms about gifts, mostly home repairs from the oil-services company Veco Corp. and its former owner, Bill Allen. Stevens is also accused of accepting other gifts from other friends and failing to report them.
The first of seven counts accuses Stevens of scheming to cover up the false filings; the other six charge him directly with lying on the Senate financial-disclosure forms for failing to disclose gifts and benefits in excess of the Senate gift limits. Those limits ranged from $260 in 2000 to $305 in 2006.
The government estimates the value of the gifts at more than $250,000 over a six-year period. That includes the value of the renovations that doubled in size Stevens' home in Girdwood.