November 30, 2005
Wednesday there was a shocking conclusion to the Charlottesville federal racketeering trial.
After more than two weeks of testimony against four men accused of running a drug and crime ring, today a federal judge declared a mistrial.
The jury was set to begin its deliberations Wednesday afternoon. Just before the judge was to give the jury its instructions, he received a note from a juror. The note said another juror discussed a newspaper article he read about the trial.
Jurors in every trial are given specific instructions not to view any media accounts and one juror told the judge he saw an article that said a witness in this case lied. Plus, he told two other jurors what he had read.
"Once that taint was sent into the jury room the judge felt like he should declare a mistrial," said Asst. US Attorney Tim Heaphy.
The judge said he was sorry this had to happen but with only two alternate jurors and three jurors affected he felt he had no choice.
"I wish the judge had conducted more voir dire and would have given the jurors that remained, who weren't exposed, instruction that they are only to base their decision on what happened in that court room," said Heaphy.
For prosecutors, who spent more than two weeks at trial presenting evidence that defendants Louis Bryant, John Bryant, Terry Suggs and Clay Maupin are guilty of running a drug and crime ring, the ruling is a disappointment.
"It's frustrating for us. It's frustrating for the victims of these crimes some of whom have waited years for this day," said Heaphy.
For friends and family of the defendants it was the right decision.
"The judge from day one seemed like he was against everybody; he was doing whatever the prosecutor wanted," said Troy Lewis, a friend of defendant Terry Suggs.
"Nobody is saying these guys are angels but we know our brother Terry Suggs was innocent," said Suggs' sisters Rita and Leaha Suggs.
Suggs' innocence or guilt and that of the three other defendants in this case will now be a decision another jury will have to make.
"This is justice deferred but not denied," said Heaphy.
In the next few days the judge will set a new trial date for all four defendants. The trial will be held in Lynchburg not Charlottesville, where the jury will be less likely tainted by the media.
Also, three of the four defendants in this case won't be out on bond. They will remain behind bars.