Libby Jury Vigil: Not Like Electing A Pope

Tuesday, February 27th 2007, 6:39 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The jury is wearing jeans!

The scuttlebutt raced like a battlefront bulletin Tuesday through the five dozen prosecutors, defense attorneys and reporters camped in the federal courthouse awaiting a verdict in the perjury trial of ex-White House aide I. Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby.

Most trial lawyers and reporters believe jurors dress up when they expect to reach a verdict and don casual clothes if they've still got lots of work to do.

The secrecy of jury deliberations provides precious few clues about where juries are headed.

``It isn't like electing a pope, where there are smoke signals after each ballot,'' said Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a Virginia attorney who defended Zacarias Moussaoui against charges related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sometimes a jury drops a clue by asking the judge to clarify a legal issue or to read them some testimony again. But Libby's jurors have asked only for a large flip chart, masking tape, Post-it notes and photos of the witnesses _ interpreted as a sign they intended to methodically evaluate the trial's 14 days of testimony and exhibits.

The jury got the case last Wednesday, but they had deliberated barely more than four days when they went home Tuesday without a verdict. At day's end, they sent a question to U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who said he would disclose and answer it Wednesday morning.

Last Wednesday morning was consumed by jury instructions from U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton. They were off for the weekend. And nearly half of Monday was lost while Walton decided to dismiss one juror who had read or seen something about the case.

``This amount of time doesn't mean anything. This looks like a pretty conscientious jury,'' said MacMahon, who observed a day of the trial. ``If it goes deep into next week, then you may start to think there may be some problems reaching a verdict.''

E. Lawrence Barcella Jr., a Washington defense attorney who spent 16 years as a prosecutor in this courthouse, said there's a general presumption that guilty verdicts come quicker, but ``I don't believe in rules of thumb.''

``I have seen juries where it seems to me it should take five minutes and it takes five days and vice versa,'' Barcella said, noting that some juries here have taken five weeks.

Also wary of conventional wisdom, MacMahon said a Virginia jury took seven days to convict a client of his on terrorism charges and a New York jury took 13 days to convict a lawyer of aiding an imprisoned terrorist.

White-collar cases like Libby's trial for perjury and obstruction of justice ``are much more complicated than drug cases,'' MacMahon said.

Barcella agreed the Libby case could take longer than ``deciding whether the traffic light was red when the car went through.''

The government says Libby lied to investigators to avoid being fired for leaking to reporters the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of a prominent critic of the Iraq war. Libby's lawyers claim he learned it from his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, but forgot that and thought he heard it for the first time a month later from a reporter and then told other reporters he had heard it from reporters but couldn't confirm it.

``The government did a good job of showing this was not the kind of thing he would likely forget, and the defense did a good job of showing that everybody in the case had some memory flaws,'' Barcella said. ``Every juror has a memory, so it's something everybody can disagree about.''

Each morning, the jurors arrive by 9 a.m. in a U.S. marshals' van. Coffee, juice and pastries await them. Lunch is brought to them from the courthouse cafeteria, but no one knows whether they work while they eat. Cookies and beverages are wheeled in around 3 p.m., and they go home at 5 p.m.

They have windows, so they worked through a two-hour power blackout Monday.

Walton has promised only 15 minutes notice before the jury delivers its verdict in court, so prosecutors and the defense team inhabit separate witness waiting rooms down the hall from the courtroom. The lawyers have laptops and Internet access to read e-mail and even work if they can concentrate on other projects.

Libby and his wife are crowded with up to 11 defense lawyers in a 15-by-20-foot room with a couch, tables and chairs. The prosecutors, FBI agents and their staff have a tad more space around a corner.

The defense team usually eats lunch together in the court cafeteria. Prosecutors have lunch brought in or visit a small restaurant a block away.

Occasionally the outside world intrudes: One defense attorney gave birth to a daughter last week. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald drove 15 hours when a weekend storm canceled flights from Chicago, his home.

Libby's wife, Harriet Grant, and attorney William Jeffress sometimes visit a park next to the courthouse to smoke. Lawyers on both teams, and Libby himself in late afternoon, stretch their legs in the chairless, marble-walled corridors, but the teams don't mingle.

Tuesday morning, defense lawyer Theodore Wells bought souvenirs, original trial sketches drawn by artists for news organizations. ``Don't you have one that shows less of my stomach?'' he asked, cracking up his colleagues.

He offered them this advice: ``Always buy your sketches before the verdict.''