Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Elliss leaves court after Judge Courtney Johnson declared a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a verdict on Tuesday October 21, 2014. Eills was charged with 13 counts, including bribery, theft, extortion and perjury.
Photo: BRANT SANDERLIN
Photo: BRANT SANDERLIN

Jury forewoman: Ellis was guilty

The jury that failed to reach a verdict in the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis was close on a few of the counts but they were truly split on most of the 13 still-unresolved charges, according to the woman who was elected foreperson after four days of the deliberations.

Susan Worthy, the second juror elected foreperson because of personality disputes with her predecessor, said she thought Ellis should have been convicted. But not all agreed and that split among her fellow jurors was not going to change, Worthy said in an interview.

The closest the jury came to a unanimous vote was on count nine, an extortion charge. The final vote on that count was 11-1 for guilty, she said.

Citing a gag order that remains in place, District Attorney Robert James office declined to say if he would seek a retrial or drop the case. That information will come out in a court filing, most likely over the next few days.

A mistrial was declared late Tuesday afternoon because the jury plagued with personality conflicts could not reach verdicts on any of the 13 charges.

Ellis will remain suspended from the elected office until there is a verdict or the charges are dismissed, and Interim CEO Lee May will continue to head the county.

Ellis was accused of shaking down county contractors for campaign contributions, and he faced charges of bribery, extortion, theft and perjury.

It became evident that a mistrial was possible Thursday morning, when jurors sent notes about their struggles to the judge.

Two jurors had personality conflicts, one jurors complained that she felt excluded, and the jury said its chosen foreperson was unable to lead.

Ellis was twice elected to run DeKalb County, one of metro Atlanta’s largest with 713,000 residents – more than the city of Atlanta itself.

Ellis’ public corruption trial was the largest in the Atlanta area since former Mayor Bill Campbell was convicted on three counts of tax evasion in 2006. Campbell was acquitted on seven counts of racketeering and bribery.

Ellis could have faced up to 20 years in prison on the bribery charge alone, and up to ten years for each of the remaining charges.

During the trial, jurors heard testimony against Ellis from county contractors who said he bullied them into giving campaign donations. The business people said that if they didn’t contribute, Ellis led them to believe they would lose work from DeKalb’s government.

When Ellis testified, he denied all of the charges.

Ellis testified that he didn’t work against businesses when they were unwilling to contribute to his campaign.

Ellis said he expected contractors to respond to his phone calls, and he took issue with companies that were deceitful or hung up on him.

He was accused of strong-arming four businesses that told their stories to jurors during the trial.

Please return to MyAJC.com and AJC.com for more news and updates.

3:56 p.m. — Judge Courtney Johnson asked jurors for the vote on each count against DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis — numbers only. The information is not to include whether they were leaning for conviction or acquittal.

3:48 p.m. — Judge Courtney Johnson told attorneys it may be time to let the jurors deliberating the corruption case of suspended CEO Burrell Ellis go home.

“I agree,” Johnson said after defense attorney Craig Gillen said he didn’t think they would be able to ever reach a verdict on the 13 charges.

“We gave closing arguments 15 days ago,” Gillen said. “They’ve have done their best.”

Johnson is asking the jury for the vote on each count.

3:45 p.m. — The jury sent out a note again saying — for the fourth time — that they cannot reach a verdict.

The judge is deciding whether to declare a mistrial.

3:10 p.m. — Jurors won’t be paid much money for trying to decide the case of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis over more than six weeks.

DeKalb pays jurors $15 for their first day of duty and $25 per day afterward.

The trial began with a week of jury selection on Sept. 8, followed by 14 days of testimony and now 11 days of deliberations.

That adds up to a total of 30 days in court, or $740 for each juror

2 p.m. — Promptly at 2 p.m. the 12 jurors deliberating the corruption case against suspended DeKalb County CEO Burell Ellis walked back into the jury room for another afternoon of discussions of the 13 charges.

This is the 11th day of deliberations.

There has been no word on how deliberations were progressing, unlike Monday when the all-female jury reported to the judge that they had not been able to agree on verdicts any of the charges — extortion, theft by taking, bribery, perjury and misdemeanor assigning duties to a government worker for political purposes.

Ellis has been passing the time in a private room with his wife and mother.

12:56 p.m. — The jury that is in its 11th day of deliberations in the corruption trial of suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis took it’s hour-long break of lunch, still unable to agree on verdicts for any of the 13 charges against him.

The only message so far today came almost two hours earlier when the 12 women alerted the deputy watching over them that they wanted to take a break.

For the third time since the the all-female jury started deliberations more than two weeks ago, the they told Judge Courtney Johnson on Monday that they were stuck and it didn’t look likely that they would get a verdict on any of the charges. Johnson gave them what is called a “dynamite charge,” stressing that they needed to work harder and keep an open mind to the opinions of others on the panel.

11:11 a.m. — Attorneys rushed into the courtroom when a blue light that announces a jury question began flashing as the jurors deliberate for the 11th day in the corruption case against suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

The jurors just wanted permission to take a break.

The chances of a verdict on any of the 13 counts against Ellis continue to be grim.

9:13 a.m. — Jurors in the trial of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis are deliberating for an 11th day, perhaps their last chance at agreeing on a verdict before a mistrial is declared.

The jury hasn’t been able to unanimously agree on any of the 13 criminal charges against Ellis.

If Judge Courtney Johnson has to declare a mistrial, the six-week trial of Ellis would end without a resolution. The charges would still be pending, Ellis would still be suspended from office and prosecutors would have to decide whether to seek a retrial.

Ellis has pleaded not guilty to charges that the threatened county contractors who resisted contributing to his 2012 re-election campaign. The charges against him include bribery, theft, extortion and perjury.

The jury has already told Johnson three times that it can’t settle its differences, and she has ordered them to keep working each of those times.

But Tuesday could be the last day of the trial.

Johnson read a “dynamite charge” to jurors on Monday, which is legal language meant to encourage them to reach a verdict. The charge is often the last recourse before declaring a mistrial.

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