WASHINGTON -- Juror No. 4 in Sen. Ted Stevens' federal corruption trial, otherwise known as Marian Hinnant, didn't abandon deliberations to attend her father's funeral in California, as she told the judge at the time.
Instead, Hinnant had a plane ticket to see the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park outside Los Angeles and didn't want to miss it, she told the judge Monday. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered her into court to find out why she'd left town and lost contact with him, forcing him to replace her just hours before the jury found Stevens guilty last week.
Throughout the five-week trial, Sullivan stressed the importance of accommodating jurors when he could, since they were the only ones in the courtroom forced to attend every day for no other reason than they lived in the District of Columbia and their names were picked in the draw. But Sullivan clearly ran out of patience with Hinnant.
"I just wanted to go to the Breeders' Cup," she told reporters outside the courthouse in a rambling and incoherent interview.
Stevens, 84, is fighting for his political life, challenged by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat. Since a jury found Stevens guilty on seven counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts, he has continued to maintain his innocence.
He said he deserves to win an appeal on grounds that prosecutors engaged in misconduct, though Sullivan already dealt with the issues during trial as they came up.
"This is another sad chapter in a trial that has been plagued by unusual occurrences," Stevens said in a statement Monday. "The facts that emerged today further demonstrate what we've dealt with in Washington, D.C., during the course of this trial"
The jury did have several problems, beginning its first day of deliberations, when they sent the judge a note asking to go home early because they were stressed and needed "clarity." The second day, they sent out a note saying that one of the jurors was disruptive and prone to violent outbursts and asking that she be removed from the jury. The judge lectured them on being civil and let them go home early.
But that evening, he heard from Hinnant, who told him she needed to go tend to her father's funeral. He suspended deliberations for Friday, Oct. 24, while he determined what to do. When he lost contact with her over the weekend, he brought in an alternate juror on Monday. Within hours, they came to a unanimous verdict of guilty on all seven counts.
Hinnant said she wasn't the disruptive juror but said, "There was one lady in there in the room one time that was always mad. I mean, that's what kept us from finishing up the deliberations so fast."
In Washington on her way from the courthouse to the Metro, Hinnant told reporters that she would have found the Alaska senator guilty had she remained on the jury.
"He didn't do anything any other congressman or senator or governor or president has not done," she said. "He was guilty but these other ones are just as guilty if not more guilty."
STATE OF MIND
Hinnant, a petite woman who works as an Avis car rental agent at Union Station, was wearing her red Avis uniform Monday in court.
Her lawyer, federal public defender A.J. Kramer, tried to keep her from saying much in court, telling the judge only that "her state of mind was such that she had to go to California."
"She apologizes to the court. In fact, her father did not die," Kramer said. "The story about her father was just one that popped into her head."
Hinnant cut in, however, and in a thick drawl gave a rambling, incoherent and baffling monologue about her former employers in the horse-racing industry in Kentucky. She mentioned drugs, wiretaps and horse racing, but it was impossible to tell what connected them.
"I'm not the one who was selling the drugs; I'm not the one who was doing the drugs," she said, a comment that left the courtroom baffled.
She said she felt a bit guilty about leaving behind her responsibilities but that she really wanted to attend the Breeders' Cup.
"I didn't think they would go this long," she said of the four-week trial. "And I needed to go to California, I wanted to go to Breeders' Cup. I worked in the horse industry."
To add yet another bizarre twist to a story that has no lack of them, the Breeders' Cup this year had another connection to the Stevens trial besides Juror No. 4. The government's chief witness against Stevens was Bill Allen, the former chief executive of the oil field service company Veco. When he agreed to cooperate with the government in its corruption investigation in Alaska, Allen won immunity for his son, Mark, who now lives in New Mexico, where he raises thoroughbreds and quarter horses.
If Hinnant watched Race 5, she would've seen Mark Allen's 2-year-old thoroughbred, Mine That Bird, race as a 30-to-1 long shot in the Juvenile. If she bet on him, she lost -- the horse came in 12th in a field of 13.
Mine That Bird is a half-brother to So Long Birdie, a thoroughbred once owned by a partnership that included Stevens, Bill Allen, Mark Allen and sportfishing advocate Bob Penney. The manager of that partnership was Bob Persons, the Double Musky restaurant owner who also figured prominently in the trial as a witness and as Stevens' friend and neighbor who watched over renovations at Stevens' Girdwood residence.
JUST ANOTHER WEIRD STORY
Bizarre as Hinnant's story is, it's unlikely her lies to the judge could be grounds for overturning the verdict or for an appeal, said Mike Seidman, a professor of constitutional and criminal law at Georgetown University Law Center. The judge acted on the information he had at the time, not information he gleaned later.
Seidman puts it in the annals of the weird jury stories all lawyers occasionally confront.
"Sometimes I think it's a miracle that any jury trial ever comes to a conclusion," he said.
It also is unlikely that Hinnant's presence would have changed the verdict. The juror herself said that her fellow jurors should have come to a verdict sooner but they were "slow in finishing it up" because some were "messing around." She also said several times that she thought Stevens was guilty -- although she also said she thought that, universally, politicians are "all guilty."
Judge Sullivan let her go, saying that he was going to "accept Mr. Kramer's representation that you were not able to (deliberate) and for reasons that were serious to you."
He added: "I'm convinced you were not able to deliberate."
Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.