A juror said he’d been told by "My Father in Heaven” that former Congresswoman Corrine Brown was not guilty in the federal case against her, according to a transcript released late Monday.
“Did you say the words, ‘A higher being told me that Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges?’” U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan asked Juror 13, according to the transcript.
“No,” the juror responded. “I said the Holy Spirit told me.”
That admission was the catalyst for removing the juror. Corrigan said that “By injecting religious beliefs that are inconsistent with the instructions of the court” the juror’s admission was “a disqualifying statement.”
The transcript, which had been sealed in order to protect jury deliberations during the trial, shows that prosecutors and the judge felt the juror had predetermined Brown’s innocence based on his religious conviction. When questioned during jury selection, the juror did not acknowledge any moral or religious belief that would prevent him from serving as a juror.
Brown was found guilty of 18 fraud and corruption charges just a day after the juror was removed.
The transcript shows federal prosecutor Tysen Duva pushed to get rid of the juror, saying “the worst scenario here is to stop at this point and sort of hope for the best.” Duva suggested the juror’s s comments could derail the case. “We might all be headed for trying this case a second time. And I don’t think anybody wants that.”
He added, “I think we have to take all steps possible to remove that element from affecting the jury’s deliberation overall.”
The closed-door hearing was prompted by call and a letter from Juror 8. In her note, she said, “With all due respect, I’m a little concerned about a statement made by Juror 13 when we began deliberation. He said ‘A Higher Being told me Corrine Brown was Not Guilty on all charges.’” She noted other members of the jury shared her concern.
Corrine Brown’s attorney James Smith objected to removing the juror, saying it appeared the juror was simply a person of deep faith who “has prayed for clarity.” He noted the juror said he’d listened to the evidence and would follow court instructions. “I did not hear this juror say, 'I’m going to follow God no matter what.'” He added, “I don’t see that there is any indication that this juror is not fulfilling his responsibilities for deliberating.”
Corrigan ultimately disagreed. He acknowledged the “fine line” between making legal conclusions in the case and expressing religious beliefs but sided with Duva. He asked Smith, “I’m wondering if the juror had said a higher being told him that Corrine Brown is guilty on all charges whether you would feel the same about not doing anything.” He added, “I think probably not.”
Smith has said he plans to seek a new trial, and in a case with few objections over evidence or witness testimony, the removal of the juror is the likeliest basis for that request.
In an email Smith sent to a closed group of federal criminal defense attorneys, he bemoaned the judge’s decision.
Smith wrote that, "despite the fact that there was no evidence that the juror was interfering with deliberations and stated that he was ultimately basing his vote on the evidence and the instructions, the judge decided to kick him off."
He called the juror's removal "a sad example of how important one vote can be."