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Inside the Ebbers Jury

In case you’re interested in this sort of thing, Peter Nulty, the father of one of the jurors who convicted Bernard Ebbers, wrote this today:

We offer a few tidbits about the jury’s deliberations that my daughter, Aran, who was juror #10, shared with the family over the dinner table on Tuesday after the verdict was rendered. Her comments suggest that pundits who comment on jury proceedings from the outside are usually just guessing and guessing wrong. This is her account of what happened:

1. From the start she believes the jury unanimously distrusted the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness, Scott Sullivan. (Some experts are still saying Ebbers was convicted because the jury believed Sullivan, but the opposite is true.)

2. Bernie Ebbers helped his case by going on the stand and denying Sullivan’s version of events. She said this effectively convinced most jurors that Sullivan was lying to get a reduced sentence. (Many experts are saying Ebbers hurt himself by testifying, but the opposite may be true.)

3. Several days into the deliberations, after ruling out Sullivan, being wary of Ebbers, and becoming bleary-eyed by poring over financial evidence, the jury was still left with the possibility (i.e., with “reasonable doubt”) that Ebbers didn’t know that WorldCom’s books were being cooked. It also left the jurors with a pile of very circumstantial evidence and no “smoking gun,” i.e., evidence of something Ebbers did, said, or wrote that showed that he knew what was going on.

4. So the jurors pored for a second time through the judge’s instructions regarding what constitutes “conspiracy” and came to focus on a statement that willful ignorance of the wrongdoing was not the same as “innocence.” So they called for a white board and started methodically listing the pros and cons of whether he should have known what was going on.

5. They concluded that he should have. Or rather, they concluded that either he knew the books were cooked, or, if he didn’t know, it was because he chose not to know and was protecting himself by remaining ignorant of circumstances that were his responsibility to understand.

6. In the end, the two big witnesses probably canceled each other out, still leaving reasonable doubt that Ebbers was guilty. But, facing attack from highly circumstantial, yet voluminous, evidence, “reasonable doubt” survived until about noon on the eighth day when it finally winked out. It was the Byzantine financial record (which included two sets of books) that finally decided the case.

7. In the courtroom, the judge polled the jury individually, asking them one by one to confirm the verdict of guilty on all 12 counts.

8. Back in the jury room, many of the jurors wept. Suddenly the judge entered. She told them their case had been extraordinarily difficult and important. She thanked them for their service and said that she was proud of the way they had deliberated so patiently and painstakingly. Then the judge, too, shed tears.

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