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No shock Veon jury spending lot of time

| Friday, March 19, 2010

HARRISBURG — It's not surprising the Dauphin County jury charged with deciding the fate of ex-Rep. Mike Veon and three co-defendants is entering a sixth day of deliberations after a six-week trial, the director of the Center for Jury Studies said Thursday.

"There is a correlation between the length of trial and deliberation," said Paula Hannaford-Agor, director of the center, part of the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. "I would not make the jump to say they are deadlocked."

It's difficult to make judgments about questions jurors asked — despite three jurors' tears and one's comment to the judge that jurors were turning against each other, Hannaford-Agor said.

"It may mean they've been there a long time, and they're tired," she said.

"It's like the events in ordinary people's lives: We disagree and argue, and then there's a breakthrough," said John Burkoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Veon, 53, the former Democratic whip who represented Beaver Falls in the state House for 22 years, is accused of overseeing a scheme to pay $1.4 million in taxpayer money to legislative staffers for work on campaigns. He and three former aides, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, Brett Cott and Steve Keefer, are charged with theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest.

The jurors are weighing 139 charges against the defendants. They have deliberated about 38 hours since March 12. Most were smiling before their dismissal for the evening yesterday.

"With four defendants and multiple counts, the amount of time is going to be longer than normal," said Bruce Antkowiak, a Duquesne University law school professor.

If the jury cannot reach a verdict, the judge could declare a mistrial. That would mean Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican candidate for governor, would face the decision of whether to retry the case. A mistrial can be mixed with multiple defendants and scores of charges: one or more defendants can be acquitted or convicted, with a hung jury for other defendants.

Nationally, about 5 percent to 6 percent of criminal jury trials result in hung juries, Hannaford-Agor said. Two percent to 3 percent result in mistrials for other reasons, such as an attorney getting sick or a witness disclosing information that's prejudicial, she said.

Before Common Pleas Judge Richard Lewis would declare a mistrial in the Veon case, he could give further instructions to the jury to motivate them to reach a verdict. It used to be called an "Allen charge" or "dynamite charge" but the courts have ruled a judge can't "strong-arm a jury," Antkowiak said.

A modified list of instructions "encourages the jurors to listen to each other but also has to include a statement to jurors that they shouldn't surrender their conscientiously held beliefs to render a verdict," he said.

Judges should be patient before declaring a mistrial, and "this one clearly is patient," Burkoff said about Lewis.

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