James Murphy Protects Privacy of Ryan Juror



CHICAGO — The federal judge in former Gov. George Ryan’s racketeering and fraud trial said Friday she was satisfied that jurors were not prejudiced by papers brought into the jury room during deliberations and ended a brief inquiry into the matter.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer interviewed at least one juror by telephone before shutting down a brief investigation into possible juror misconduct sought by defense attorneys.

Defense attorneys, hoping for a mistrial that would erase the guilty verdict, said bringing unauthorized legal papers into the jury room could have seriously tainted the deliberations.

The judge announced Thursday that she intended to interview Evelyn Ezell and that prosecutors and defense lawyers could sit in on the closed-door session to be held in her chambers.

“Out of deference to these jurors and in order to resolve this matter fairly but swiftly, the court will attempt to conduct this inquiry as quickly as possible,” Pallmeyer said.

Ezell told The Associated Press that she told Pallmeyer what she’s said in media interviews over the last two weeks. She claims another juror read from what appeared to be legal documents and told Ezell that jurors could be dismissed for refusing to deliberate.

NBC5’s Lisa Tutman spoke with Ezell prior to the call Friday morning. Ezell was anxious to hear from the judge, at that point, and said she has a lot to say.

“Being that I have given six months of my life, also, and I feel that there has been an injustice done,” she told Tutman. “And five more minutes will not hurt me.”

Ezell has said in news media interviews since the April 17 verdict that other members of the panel brought what appeared to be legal papers into the jury room and read to her portions that dealt with the possible dismissal of jurors who refused to deliberate.

She was later dismissed from the panel and replaced with an alternate because she failed to tell the court that she had several arrests on her record.

“We all argued with Evelyn about her inability to deliberate, or her unwillingness to deliberate,” said juror Kevin Rein.

Defense attorneys, hoping for a mistrial that would erase the guilty verdict, said bringing unauthorized legal papers into the jury room could seriously taint the deliberations and urged Pallmeyer to question Ezell to determine if her claims were accurate.

Ezell on Thursday night said she was looking forward to the interview.

“I am relieved the truth is out, and at least if nothing else, they’re going to look into it,” Ezell said in a telephone interview. “I kind of feel like there is some justice at last.”

Prosecutors have been sharply critical of Ryan’s attorneys for fighting to discredit the jurors weeks after the verdict was reached, but defense lawyers said they were only doing their job.

“We are defending two old men who will possibly die in jail — this is something we have to do,” Edward M. Genson, representing Ryan co-defendant Larry Warner, said at a Thursday hearing.

Ryan, 72, and Warner, 67, were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud and other offenses after six months of testimony and a month of deliberations at the marathon trial.

The indictment said that Ryan as secretary of state for eight years and governor for four had steered state leases and contracts to Warner and other politically connected insiders.

Ryan was allegedly rewarded with expense-paid vacations in Jamaica, Mexico and California and gifts ranging from $145,000 in loans for his brother’s floundering business to a golf bag.

Prosecutors said there was no need to conduct an inquiry into what happened in the jury room, declaring that the jurors had taken enough scrutiny and needed to return to private life.

“We are big boys and girls, we can take it,” lead prosecutor Patrick M. Collins said, referring to the government attorneys. “It is not fair to these jurors to have to deal with this incessant investigation of them.”

In an unusual twist, the prosecutors were joined by attorney James A. Murphy, representing juror Leslie Losacco, in asking the court to deny the interview request. Murphy said interviewing would merely start a chain of events that would end in a full-scale hearing with jurors as witnesses.

“The jurors are definitely going to be dragged into this if it goes forward,” he told reporters after the morning court session. He said Losacco wanted to keep out of the spotlight.

The proceedings were watched from the spectator benches by juror Kevin Rein, a carpenter from suburban Glen Ellyn, who said afterward that he agreed with what Murphy told the court.

In the decision she released early Thursday evening, Pallmeyer reiterated that she was denying a defense request to take sworn testimony from jury forewoman Sonja Y. Chambers.

Defense attorneys had claimed that Chambers was not truthful with the court when she indicated on a jury questionnaire that she had never been involved in a court case. In fact, for several years she had been involved in a divorce.

Defense attorneys also said that Chambers may have lied to the court when she denied that she spoke about the case briefly during deliberations with the owner of a coffee shop.

Pallmeyer called Chambers in for a closed-door meeting on the morning that the jury delivered its verdict, finding Ryan guilty of all 18 counts against him.

The judge said at the time that she didn’t believe that Chambers was deliberately withholding information about her divorce from the court in answering the questionnaire.

On Thursday morning, Collins objected to the defense request to reopen the matter, saying that Chambers had told the court during jury selection that she was separated from her husband.

“Now we’re calling her a liar again,” Collins said disgustedly.

Copyright 2006 by NBC5.com The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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