Courtroom sensation as Tyco case is kicked out

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The Independent Online

The United States government suffered a serious setback in its mission to crack down on corporate crime when the judge in the case against Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco International, declared a mistrial following revelations that a member of the jury had received a threatening letter from the public.

The United States government suffered a serious setback in its mission to crack down on corporate crime when the judge in the case against Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco International, declared a mistrial following revelations that a member of the jury had received a threatening letter from the public.

The collapse of the six-month-long trial bought gasps through the courtroom in lower Manhattan. Prosecutors immediately indicated that they would begin seeking a date for a new trial against Mr Kozlowski and his co-defendant, Mark Swartz, the former CFO of the conglomerate.

The two men were accused of looting $600m (£328m) from the company, which makes everything from coat hangers to under-sea telecommunications cables. Had they been found guilty, each might have faced 30 years in prison. Indeed, the Tyco case, which at times seem like a reality television glimpse into the world of corporate excess and indulgence, had become emblematic of the government's attempts to make examples of white-collar wrong-doers and bring them to justice.

Trouble had brewing for some time, however. Midway through their 12 days of deliberations, jurors sent a note to Judge Michael Obus indicating they were being stymied by one hold-out juror, who was apparently blocking guilty verdicts. They said the atmosphere had turned "poisonous".

Worse was to come the following day, however, when media outlets reported spotting one of the jurors making what appeared to be an "OK" sign with her fingers to the members of the defence team. The gesture was reported widely. Moreover, both the New York Post and the online edition of the Wall Street Journal broke with convention and named the woman in their reports.

It was yesterday morning, when Judge Obus learned that overnight, the juror had received what was said to be either a threatening or coercive letter from the public.

After receiving all the lawyers involved in the trial, he returned to the courtroom to declare the mistrial. "It is certainly a shame that this has to be done at this time," the judge told the jurors, many of whom wore faces of obvious chagrin. Mr Kozlowski, 57, and Mr Swartz, looked ashen-faced. Leaving the courthouse afterwards with his wife, Mr Kozlowski said he felt "relieved".

Only weeks ago, the government won a conviction against the domestic living guru, Martha Stewart, for lying to investigators about a share transaction. Her case seemed to set a tone for further high-profile cases that are just around the corner against former executives of WorldCom and Enron.

The role the two media outlets played in naming the juror will is now be hotly debated. In an interview with CNN, another juror seemed to suggest the jury had been on the brink of finding the defendants guilty on Thursday, adding to the sense of frustration felt by the prosecutors.

The New York Post, as well as naming juror number four, referred to her last weekend as a "batty blueblood" under a headline that read "Ms Trial". Yesterday, Judge Obus sought to remove any responsibility from the juror. "There has been no finding that this juror has done anything wrong", he said, declaring the mistrial. "A great disservice may have been done to her and her family".

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