Patterico's Pontifications


Inside the Jury Room at the Holy Land Foundation Trial

Filed under: Crime,Terrorism — DRJ @ 12:00 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial in Dallas began in August 2007 and ended in a mistrial in late November 2007. The trial and verdict/mistrial were covered in several posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The presiding trial judge was out of town when the jury announced it had reached a verdict, so the verdict was sealed for several days until the judge returned to receive it. What happened next was quite unusual – the Fort Worth Star-Telegram link for this quote has been archived but I linked it here:

“Jurors finally indicated that they had reached verdicts last Thursday. But their decisions were sealed until Monday because federal District Judge A. Joe Fish was out of town.

As Fish read the results, it appeared that jurors had acquitted Abdulqader on all charges, El-Mezain and Abdulrahman Odeh on most charges, and failed to reach decisions on any counts involving Baker, Elashi or Holy Land itself. But even that partial result was precarious. When the judge polled each juror whether he or she agreed with the verdicts – normally a formality – things turned chaotic, as three jurors disavowed the vote.

Fish sent the jury back to resolve the differences, but after about an hour, they said they could not continue, and the judge declared a mistrial.”

The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) followed up on this unusual proceeding. I’m not familiar with this organization but several of its contributors are well-regarded, and IPT claims to have discovered some serious problems in the jury room:

“The terrorism-support trial of five Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) officials, which began July 24, already had been stressful for 49-year-old Kristina Williams. She had lost her job two weeks into it. Now during deliberations, she felt bullied and intimidated virtually every time she voiced an opinion.

“When I’d get off the jury I’d come home every night and basically cry because I felt like every time I spoke I would get knocked down, criticized, one way or the other for something pertaining to the way I voted,” Williams said in an exclusive interview.

While several jurors favored acquittals, just one out of the 12 did most of the knocking down. In fact, interviews with three HLF jurors – speaking publicly for the first time – suggest that juror William Neal’s stridency may have changed the trial’s outcome. Neal even claimed credit for steering jurors away from convictions in a recent radio interview. Until now, he has been the sole source for public perception of the deliberations and the government’s case.

The three jurors interviewed by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) showed the Neal-created perception as skewed. All three jurors say they disagree with his views of the evidence and the prosecution’s case. To them, it seems clear that Neal made up his mind going into the jury room and refused to consider any argument in favor of guilt. He preferred to read the court’s instructions rather than look at exhibits in evidence, they said. And his often snide manner intimidated and bullied those who disagreed with him.

The effect this had on the case is clear. When a juror walked out in frustration after just four days of deliberations, it followed a confrontation with Neal. When another juror briefly refused to cast a vote, it was after a confrontation with Neal. Williams broke down several times during the 19 days jurors spent locked in debate. Each incident followed what she felt was an attack by Neal.

In an interview with the IPT Dec. 3, Neal said he had no regrets. He disputed only some parts of the other jurors’ stories – he said he can’t remember telling Williams to go home if she was relying on the evidence in the jury room — but stopped short of saying it didn’t happen. “We had so many conversations they tend to blend together,” he said.”

According to IPT, the three jurors described a contentious jury room dominated by Neal. As noted above, one juror, Sylvester Holmes, became so frustrated he asked to be dismissed and an alternate took his place:

“Holmes got so frustrated that he walked out, forcing deliberations to start over when an alternate took his place. That deprived those favoring a guilty verdict of an ally. He wrote to the court saying he did not “feel that I can give the defendant’s (sic) justice. Due to the circumstance in this case, I ask to be dismiss (sic) for this case.”

Holmes, a supervisor at a recycling plant, said he thought all the defendants were guilty but saw no point in arguing further. “I felt they were wasting my time,” he said.”

After the mistrial, Neal gave interviews that provided interesting insight on his view of the case and terrorism financing in general:

“Neal, a graphic artist, apparently felt the same way about others wasting his time. He was interviewed by Dallas radio and television stations within days of the trial and by the Dallas Morning News. Thus far, his assertions have provided the only detailed insider assessment about the prosecution case.

Neal made his disdain clear two days after the mistrial in an interview on Dallas radio station KRLD. “A lot of the jurors couldn’t even say words that had four syllables,” Neal said on the Ernie and Jay show on KRLD 1080 AM. “They just picked the jury based on socio-economical reasons. A lot of these people are blue collar, you know, working UPS, working food, cafeteria cashier. You had people [from] secluded lifestyles. They had no idea of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They had no idea about worldly affairs. To get them and you show them bombs and show them kids – that’s not our lifestyle so we’ve got to vote them guilty because of that. That’s the whole reason.”

The Dallas Morning News noted Neal “also had difficulty calling Hamas a terrorist group. ‘Part of it does terrorist acts, but it’s a political movement. It’s an uprising.'”

He reinforced that assessment in the IPT interview, saying he read the Hamas charter twice during deliberations. “They haven’t always been a bombing kind of group,” he said. Hamas’ first actions involved shootings and stabbings. Its preamble to the charter includes this: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

So, to Neal, what is Hamas? “It is marked as a terrorist organization. My personal viewpoint, I didn’t know too much before. I see it as a political struggle. Our country was founded on a terrorist act. The Boston Tea Party wasn’t a tea party, dude. It was a rebellion against the king’s wrath. They fought back against an oppressive government.”

He argues that prosecutors never proved that Palestinian charities, the zakat committees, were controlled by Hamas. HLF routed its money to the committees. Absent that proof of Hamas control, Neal reasons, the defendants can’t be convicted. Within hours of the mistrial, he told reporters the government’s case “was strung together with macaroni noodles.”

“There were so many gaps in the evidence, I could drive a truck through it,” he told the Morning News. That, the three other jurors interviewed said, was not the case. Neal simply refused to consider it as valid evidence. Even at the end, a majority favored convicting Baker and Elashi, Williams and the unnamed juror reported.

If the jurors’ recollections are correct, Neal’s mind may have already been made up before the deliberations began:

“Neal told the IPT he went into deliberations with no opinion and wanted to see where the evidence took him. The other jurors never knew how he was voting on secret ballots, he said. Neal told interviewers it was the other jurors who had their minds made up before deliberations started, that it was their refusal to budge that dragged out deliberations.

That’s just wrong, the anonymous juror said. “If he believed not guilty across the board, if he wanted to talk about the case, that was fine. But he shouldn’t have said stuff that wasn’t true,” the juror said. Asked to clarify, the juror said, “He talks a lot about people not changing their minds. I changed my mind throughout the deliberations on several defendants. I guarantee you he never changed his mind throughout. He was at not guilty from the time he sat in there.

In addition, according to the three jurors’ analysis of the deliberations, Neal was an angry man:

When things got heated, the one constant was Neal’s involvement, the three other jurors interviewed say. Williams remembers one confrontation that prompted other jurors to demand a break to let tempers cool. A woman juror was going toe to toe with Neal, Williams said. At one point, she explained something and said “that is my opinion.”

“Well f*** your opinion,” Neal hollered back at her.

The IPT article provides significant detail on several claims in the trial as well as the opinions of the interviewed jurors regarding the evidence. I encourage you to click on the link and read the whole thing.

H/T and thanks to Chas.


17 Responses to “Inside the Jury Room at the Holy Land Foundation Trial”

  1. I wonder if this case should have been broken down instead of all these co-defendants. It was complex enough. I am not a fan of the jury system, but Neal had every right to berate others rudely. One would think that this wouldn’t help his cause, but it did. Frankly, it shouldn’t be hard to identify jurors like this. Whoever conducted jury selection deserves credit for this problem, as they did not take their job seriously enough.

    This man is a jerk, but that’s democracy. That’s what a jury of peers looks like before you weed out those who will not be fair. Why do we resort to juries? They give lawyers more money generally. They provide a bit more predictability to lawyer who would play on emotion. They nullify valid laws. In short, they are not good for our system. A professional jury of three people who know what they are doing and are fair would save the justice system time and advance the efficient and fair administration of justice. Have a procedural judge at the bench and a deliberative judge hear the allowed evidence and apply some clear standards as best they can.

    In what world is this not an improvement? Only one where we assume juries are fair, reliable, or have some inherent magical value to our society.

    Dustin (9e390b)

  2. I have heard of jurors like Neal before. They should be removed from the jury pool immediately and permanently. They do not give either side a fair trial.

    This case should be retried on all counts. The prosecutors should take great care that people WHO REFUSE TO CONVICT or REFUSE TO CONSIDER THE EVIDENCE not be seated as jurors.

    PCD (09d6a8)

  3. Yeah, the prosecutor was the one who is a jerk. How the hell could a guy like this get past outside scrutiny? He must have a track record. And careful examination by a trial attorney should have smoked him out. BTW, I was on a jury once a long time ago and I, as well as two other guys, had the balls to stand up to a particularly abusive member of the jury, to the point that I was ready to fight him. He was “excused” by the judge when we all brought the facts to light. Once he was removed I think we probably let one of the guiltiest SOBs on the planet loose because we were so relieved, so I can’t say that justice was served.

    Howard Veit (cc8b85)

  4. I dunno. Sometimes a prospective juror may deliberately hide his sympathies because he WANTS to get on the jury and sway the verdict. I remember back in an Oakland/LA Raiders trial, one of the prospective jurors tried unsuccessfully to hide his affinity for the team. It would seem that Mr. Neal was simply more successful.

    In one interview, Neal indicated prosecutors may have falsely believed he would be sympathetic to them. His father works in the military, he said on the Ernie and Jay show.

    “My answers [to the questionnaire] looked like I was a pro-American, you know, flag-waving American. I mean, I am, but they thought I was not going to be able to think for myself and just go on the facts that these were Muslims and these were, you know some of the defendants were not American citizens.”

    aunursa (090908)

  5. Dustin #1 –

    I’m not a lawyer, so someone else may have deeper thoughts than mine on the value of the jury system. But my thought is that juries, being more or less randomly selected (at least the initial pool, which is then narrowed down) help prevent “stacking the deck” against a defendant. (Or for a defendant).

    With a professional jury, especially a smaller one (three people) as you suggest, the pool of potential jurors would be much, much smaller, and a prosecutor angling for a conviction on a weak case could game the system more easily — he could easily know which jurors were likely to favor his case and which ones weren’t, and armed with that foreknowledge, there are all sorts of games he could play. Ms. Smith isn’t likely to favor my case, but I know she’s going on vacation this February, so I’ll try to schedule my case for February. Mr. Jones hasn’t been in a trial for some time now, his turn is coming up soon — I’ll take him out to dinner and chat about how tax evaders are scumbags.

    There are all sorts of games a prosecutor, or a defense attorney, could play if they knew in advance who was likely to be on the jury. Our current jury system at least limits their advance knowledge to a few days or so, between when the initial jury pool gets called in and when the actual trial begins. (If that takes longer than a few days, I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than I am will correct me.)

    The question of what to do about jerks like Neal, though, remains. My gut feeling is that some of the other jurors should have gone to the judge and said, in essence, “This guy’s being a complete and utter a**hole, and we can’t work with him.” If Mr. Holmes had gotten a few other members of the jury to agree with him and gone to the judge with that, then Neal might have been the one removed, rather than Holmes walking out, and the case probably wouldn’t have ended in a mistrial.

    Robin Munn (905bef)

  6. Oh, and I just love Neal’s insinuation that “flag-waving American[s]” can’t think for themselves. Gee, what a nice guy he comes off as.

    Robin Munn (905bef)

  7. The people who wrote the Constitution were familiar with the record in Britain. Judges were biased in the Crown’s favor, the juries were no t so likely to be biased on way or the other consistently. Any system incorporating people will not be perfect.

    And they considered jury nullification a feature, not a bug. Just because a law is valid doesn’t mean it’s a good law. Checks and balances, Dustin.

    LarryD (feb78b)

  8. I would be very interested to see this guy’s questionaire and voir dire responses. I am curious as to how honest he really was.

    David (c893f6)

  9. William Neal, the new darling of Cedar Springs.

    I’ve been reading and listening to this verbose juror (Neal) for a couple of months now here in Dallas. His bias is palpable and was well and coyly concealed in his voir dire. He was a bad, bad selection for the prosecution. And he was the only juror who accepted interviews immediately after the mistrial was declared. No surprise here.

    When he stated to WFAA the reason why the trial was held at all was “political” and the case was an evil vendetta of President Bush, I recognized him as a media-monger. After all, most of the evidence in this case dated back to 1993. Clinton sat on the HLF-Hamas exposure (confirmed by Israel) for two full terms without action. Bush acted on the HLF-Hamas matter within his first year of taking office and before 9-11 occurred.

    Neal found conspiracy everywhere, even in the expert witnesses, as Neal was shocked that one or more of the prosecutorial witnesses “have been [witnesses] in every trial since Marzook was arrested.” He was especially aghast that the Israeli Shin Bet agent “admitted in open court that he was being paid to be here ‘completely biased’!” Gee. Aren’t most expert witnesses paid to appear? Psychiatrists come to mind, as do forensics experts to name just two fields.

    William Neal was lucky and deliberate enough to land himself on one of the more important matters recorded on the Northern District docket.

    Neal has generously given us a multitude of clues as to what went wrong in the jury room, but little if any information as to how best to proceed at the retrial.

    This case was enormously complicated and nearly incomprehensible to the lay juror. After all, a “mistrial” simply means that jurors were profoundly confused. Hopefully, prosecutors will be able to better explain this case to the next jury. They need someone to paint a clear picture of how all the pieces fit together. The learning curve is huge and takes experts years to get a solid grip on. But a jury has only weeks and not a background to help them follow bread crumbs, regardless how large and obvious they might be.

    Despite Neal’s apparent desires, this case will have another chance at conviction. A mistrial was the best outcome, sans conviction.

    EHeavenlyGads (17aca7)

  10. “They can’t even say four-syllable words”

    “They just picked the jury based on socio-economical reasons”

    What the hell is “socio-economical” supposed to mean, other than the speaker is (1) an abuser of the English language; and, (2) a pretentious twit? Yep, it could be he is simply using an incredibly arcane and apparently mistaken usage, but I suspect this guy, who is lecturing the world on the stupidity of the jury pool, is larding his lecture with made up words. Members of the jury pool may have trouble using four syllable words, but this guy isn’t much better in his failed attempt to use six syllable words. I should be more understanding – the poor guy is probably all misorientated thanks to the Neo-Cons and this damn Bush war.

    Stupid f***er.

    Al Maviva (89d0b6)

  11. He’s so enamored with syllables, he adds unnecessary ones to words….

    Techie (ed20d9)

  12. Exxon’s claiming the same thing in the Valdez appeal that the jury was threatended apparently by the bailiffs and the locals

    EricPWJohnson (92aae0)

  13. I said in comments on this site at the time that it was a tremendous mistake by the judge to let the jury sit over the weekend after such a long trial. He should have dropped his conference and flown back immediately so that the jury could have announced the verdict and been polled first thing Saturday morning. Clearly, that wouldn’t have solved all the major problems that apparently existed with the jury, but at least it might have made the polling more consistent with the verdict.

    PatHMV (ca7f25)

  14. “This case was enormously complicated and nearly incomprehensible to the lay juror…”

    Anyone know if Gerry Spence ever works the other side of the aisle?
    If nothing else, the man can speak simple.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  15. Neal’s mistake was giving interviews. He can hold any opinions he darn well pleases: that’s the point of our country and the jury system. The “Holy Land Foundation’s” complaints boil down to a lot of whining that the juror wasn’t very nice, but I don’t recall that as being a requirement for jury selection. Otherwise… someone… in a jury… used opinions and argument to influence the decision of a jury…what am I missing here, exactly?

    Except a mob, ignorant of the facts of the trial, armed with the assumption of guilt by media report, looking for someone to blame.

    What’s sick about the whole case is the idea of prosecuting people for donating money to non-terrorist groups with alledged humanitarian aims, without even being required to prove that the people doing the donating were in any way intending to further acts of violence.

    glasnost (c83ef1)

  16. glasnost – what am I missing here, exactly?

    I think you successfully managed to miss everything. Congratulations!

    daleyrocks (906622)

  17. 1. Dustin: Neal had the “right” to berate others to the point of abuse? I’m not a lawyer, but I would call this a case of “jury misconduct.”

    2. PCD: You are exactly right – the case should be retried without a doubt. But the prosecutors will have to develop a stronger screening process. It appears Neal just carefully tucked away his true agenda to get on the jury.

    3. Howard: The prosecutors weren’t jerks. They did their job strenuously. I was there.

    4. Aunursa: You are right on the money. He hid himself pre-trial and exposed himself post-trial.

    5. Dustin: The question about what to do with juror abusing jerks like Neal remains. Who has ever heard of the ability of the jurors to complain to the judge about one abusive juror? I saw those other jurors – they were normal, nice citizens not equipped to deal with some abusive left wing jerk with an agenda.

    6. Robin: He sees himself as much like the media did in this case – protecting poor stupid Americans from unfairly persecuting the funders of Hamas terrorism.

    7. Larry: If there is no provision for dealing with jurors like this one who ‘terrorizes’ the rest, then there is not enough checks and balances to protect the jurors.

    8. David: He wasn’t honest. If you listen to his post-trial interviews, he reveals that he hid his true thoughts from the interviewers.

    9. EHeavenlyGads: Excellent observations.

    10. Stupid: He saw himself above everyone else. Hate will always make you see incorrectly. It is stupid to try to hang the foolishness of all those preferring the ostrich approach to dealing with terrorism on Bush. Much of the media do the same thing and it is just stupid.

    13. Pat: Sitting over the weekend did not change anything in the trial. Go read the article at the Investigative Project. As soon as they went into the jury deliberations, the long knives came out.

    14. Another Drew: The problem is not with the prosecutors not being able to speak simple but that the facts aren’t simple. That is because it is a conspiracy–think Mafia trials.

    15. Glasnost: Having sat in the trial and seeing the evidence first hand, you just don’t know how well the prosecution connected the dots. Only a dolt would have preferred to ignore the clear connections to Hamas.

    donna (ec1ee8)

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