When a federal judge declared a mistrial in the government’s case against Kevin Ring last month, some asked, “What went wrong?”
We caught up with two of the jurors this week for some insight. Lucky us, one voted to convict (on all but one count) and the other to acquit.
First, a bit of background: The Justice Department has drawn 17 guilty pleas in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling probe, but prosecutors have suffered setbacks in the two cases in which defendants have opted for trial.
Ring is charged with conspiracy, handing out illegal gratuities and scheming to deprive taxpayers of the honest services of members of the executive and legislative branches. After nearly eight days of deliberation, the jury in Ring’s trial hung on all eight counts.
Prosecutors have said they intend have another go at it. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, scheduled trial for June 21, after the Supreme Court hears arguments in three cases exploring the reach of the “honest services” law, with which Ring is charged.
Ring’s lawyers say he was a skilled lobbyist who used legal — if at times unseemly — methods to advance his clients’ interests. Prosecutors say he lavished public officials with meals and tickets to concerts and sporting events in return for helping Ring’s clients.
Our first juror — hereafter, Juror No. 1 — is 50 years old and a retired member of the Air Force. On Wednesday, he discussed his experience with us on the condition that he not be named.
JUROR No. 1
Main Justice: Let’s start with an outline of the deliberations.
Juror No. 1: We went through each count without a unanimous decision. Then we tried to do what we thought was the easiest one, which was count eight. [On the sixth day of deliberations, the jury informed Huvelle it had reached a verdict on this count, which involves a payment of $5,000 to a credit union account controlled by the wife of former Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.). The jurors voted to acquit but later split.] We reached a tentative verdict, but as we talked more and we better understood our own thoughts, some people just changed their minds on how they voted.
MJ: What was the vote on count eight?
Juror No. 1: It was really close. I think it was five [convict], six [acquit] and one [undecided].
MJ: And the other seven?
Juror No. 1: The rest, I believe, were eight [convict] and four [acquit]. [Click here for a copy of the indictment.]
MJ: How did you vote?
Juror No. 1: I voted not guilty on all counts.
MJ: Were the disagreements specific to each count or was there some common theme?
Juror No. 1: Everything required us to judge what he was thinking. We had to determine his state of mind, and that was a common thread through all the charges. That’s where we got hung up. That, in my mind, is almost an impossible task.
MJ: The government relied heavily on emails, many of which portrayed Ring and his colleagues gloating about lobbying victories and talking about handing out tickets and meals to public officials. How did his defense get past that?
Juror No. 1: He could have had a lot of intentions, and those emails weren’t enough to spell them out. He could have just been plying them with everything he needed to continue his access and influence, as lobbyists do. If the prosecution could have discriminated betwen lobbying and corrupt lobbying better, then they would have made their case. Even though [the government] had a mountain of evidence, it wasnt helpful in showing us what Kevin Ring was thinking.
MJ: Did you have any preconception of lobbyists? Did you at point before the deliberations have an idea of which way you were leaning?
Juror No. 1: I was really ignorant of the lobbying thing. I wasn’t able to prejudge. I was just like a sponge. And even when the trial and closing arguments were over, I didn’t know how I would decide until we actually had a conversation and looked at the counts.
MJ: Judge Huvelle kept saying you were one of the best juries she’s seen. What was the climate like in the jury room? Were you guys at each others’ throats?
Juror No. 1: No. This was a really intelligent group and they were great to work with. We ended up being a hung jury because we had irreconcilable differences, but everyone was respectful. We had an outstanding foreman. [The foreman, by the way, had some lobbying experience.]
MJ: Thank you, sir.
Juror No. 1: Glad to help.
JUROR No. 2
The second juror, Joy Stevenson, is an administrative assistant at Job Corps. We talked with her on Thursday.
Main Justice: Can you give me a sense of the divisions among the jury?
Stevenson: It was really heated at points. One gentleman, an attorney, he got up and he paced the floor and he was adamant that we could not prove Mr. Ring was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He and three or four others. There was an older lady…who just couldn’t see herself taking people out to dinner or to a game to influence them and so she couldn’t see Mr. Ring doing it. Overall, we formed relationships. We became friends. But some people took it personally.
MJ: How so?
Stevenson: It got to the point that [some of the jurors who favored acquittal] would fold their hands or read the paper. They would have side conversations while we were trying to deliberate. They weren’t even trying to change their minds.
MJ: What convinced you Ring was guilty?
Stevenson: The email traffic. You had Ring and the guys he worked with talking about how they they did this and that, how they loved the look in [a public official's] eyes when they knew they had them. They were very shrewd. They were very careful, and a lot of things they didn’t say. Their plan was very strategic, and that’s why they were so successful….It was very interesting to me how our laws and decisions are made based on power and money. If you’re speaking to the right person and you have the money, they you can influence them. They’re swayed. And I saw that. It was really something.
MJ: But it’s tough trying to get into someone’s mind, to prove intent.
Stevenson: It was kind of frustrating at times because we couldn’t find anything specifically to say, “Ring did this, or he did that,” based on the emails. And Judge Huvelle told us that there was no restriction on giving at the time. You had [Greenberg Traurig's] rules…but, legally, it felt like there was nothing we could use. It was like we were up against a brick wall.
MJ: Before the trial, did you have any preconceptions about lobbyists?
Stevenson: Not really, no. Going into that trial, for me, was like a refresher course [on civics]. It was great. I learned a whole lot.
MJ: Talk about the government’s case. How did the prosecutors do?
Stevenson: I think the government, I think those guys were great. I was very impressed with all of them….But I was looking for them to pull it all together at the end. You know, bam! There was no clincher.
MJ: Thanks, Ms. Stevenson.
Stevenson: Thank you.
A note about the jury list: Huvelle ask jurors to contact her if they wished to have their names release to the news media. Three jurors gave their consent. The others remain anonymous.