Jurors weren’t able to reach a verdict in the corruption trial of DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis over five days of deliberations this week, and they’ll return to court to reconsider the case Tuesday.
The jury, made up of 10 black women and two white women, appeared to work together Friday after tempers flared the day before, resulting in the judge sending them home early to cool off.
There were no outward signs of intractable disputes among jurors, and they asked questions about the legality of wiretapped recordings played during trial and about taking a day off Monday, Columbus Day.
Ellis, the twice-elected leader of one of Georgia’s largest counties, has been fighting accusations that he threatened government contractors for contributions during his 2012 re-election campaign. He is facing 13 felony charges that include extortion and bribery.
The trial has lasted five weeks so far, with one week of deliberations following three weeks of testimony and a week of jury selection.
Reviewing evidence and testimony
Jurors on Tuesday re-watched a 41-minute video of Ellis as he testified before a special-purpose grand jury in January 2013, during which he allegedly lied three times about his involvement in the county’s contracts.
The following day, they again listened to three conversations with Ellis that the prosecution’s star witness secretly recorded. In those recordings, Ellis discussed with the county’s purchasing director, Kelvin Walton, how vendors had treated him when he called for campaign contributions and whether they deserved to be given any of DeKalb County’s business.
That day, jurors also asked for transcripts of witness testimony, a request that Johnson denied, telling them to rely on their recollections and notes. That was the first indication to courtroom spectators that jurors had strong disagreements over what they had seen and heard.
Disputes among jurors spilled out of the jury room Thursday, when Johnson alerted attorneys for both sides that a juror had complained she was being shut out of deliberations, and others talked over her when she tried to push her way into discussions.
About an hour and half later, a note from the entire jury was delivered:
“Judge Johnson, we, the jury, are having a very difficult time following the leader. We are all very passionate about our feelings and have not been able to go over several counts in the indictment. Some jurors feel that we can’t go forward. Two jurors have personality conflicts. The elected foreman cannot lead the jurors, ” the note said.
Johnson sent them home for the afternoon to relax and to put some distance between the animosities building in the jury room.
By Friday, animosities appeared to have settled down as the jury sent out a few notes about taking Monday off and the definition of the phrase “to wit,” in the indictment, which means “namely.”
Another note, read at the beginning of the day Friday, was from the juror who had been upset the previous day.
“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.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will continue to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Ellis trial. Log on to MyAJC.com for the latest trial updates. AJC reporters are stationed in the courtroom and will publish a verdict immediately.