Jury asks judge about the legality of secretly recording phone calls



4:21 p.m. — Even as their work day was ending, the DeKalb County jury deciding the corruption trial of suspended CEO Burrell Ellis had two questions regarding legal definitions.

One was asking the judge to simply define “to wit;” the answer was “that is to say” or “namely.”

The second question was more difficult.

The jury said different jurors had different interpretations of the legality of intercepting phone calls and wiretapping.

District Attorney Robert James said that question suggested that one juror or more had raised the issue of whether they could ignore the secret recordings made by the prosecution’s star witness.

“As to whether or not something is legal or illegal its not their job,” James said. “They are not necessarily authorized to disregard evidence.”

They returned to the jury room just 10 minutes before they were scheduled to end their day, at 4:30 p.m.

2:24 p.m. — Jurors deliberating the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis are obviously not close to a verdict as they asked the judge if they could take off and resume their work on Tuesday.

The judge said she would rather not take the break but approved it because defense attorneys and prosecutors were amenable to giving them the day off.

The jurors said in their note that the schools would be closed because it’s Columbus Day and some of them have “child care problems.” Actually, Monday is a work day for teachers so students will not have school.

Also cutting into their time in the jury room, the judge has said they will end their deliberations for the weekend at 4:30 p.m. because Decatur High School’s homecoming celebration will close some streets around the courthouse.

12:29 p.m. — Some of the personality problems that plagued the deliberations in the corruption case against suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis Thursday may have been put aside by the time jurors got back together on Friday.

The only notes from the jury Friday have been from the group asking to take a lunch break between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. and an apology from a juror who was upset Thursday with how she was being treated.

There have been no complaints made to the judge about the leadership of the foreperson or about the tenor of debate.

Their deliberations will end at 4:30 p.m. Friday, if they don’t reach a verdict, because streets around the courthouse will be closed at 5 p.m. for Decatur High School’s homecoming celebration.

11:09 a.m. — On Thursday, personality problems with jurors became evident when one complained about being cut out of deliberations and a note from the panel explained there were issues between two members of the jury and with the leadership of the foreperson.

On Friday, one of those jurors wrote an apology to the judge presiding over the case, Courtney Johnson.

“Judge Johnson, I want to apologize for the disturbance that took place in the jury room,” the juror wrote. “I honestly felt attacked, bullied for having a voice and actually deliberating. Some are not saying anything because they are clearly ready to retire. I truly believe the DA’s office and the defense team worked extremely hard on this case. It’s only fair for me, as a juror, to take this position seriously. I have given utmost respect to jurors and expect the same in return.

“Again, I am sorry for responding for what I thought was an inappropriate response… But I can honestly say that I will continue to ignore it and complete this task as professional as possible. Thank you.”

10:43 a.m. — A juror who was involved in a disagreement with others deciding the case against suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis apologized to the judge in a note Friday morning.

“I honestly felt attacked,” the juror wrote.

She also said some jurors were not “saying anything” because they wanted to be done with the case.

The juror promised “to complete the task as professionally as possible.”

By the time the note was sent, the jurors had been deliberating almost 1 1/2 hours. Friday is their fifth day.

9:05 a.m. — Behind closed doors, a deeply divided jury is trying Friday to work out its differences and come to an agreement on the criminal charges against DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

Jurors have told the judge in the case that they’re having personality conflicts and couldn’t follow their chosen jury foreperson.

The jurors also wrote in a note to the judge Thursday that they hadn’t even considered some of the charges while delivering over four days.

Judge Courtney Johnson sent the jurors home at noon Thursday and asked them to try again Friday.

If the jury can’t reach unanimous verdicts, a mistrial would be declared and the case could be retried or dismissed.

Ellis is accused of shaking down county contractors for campaign contributions.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, theft, extortion and perjury.