Judge declares mistrial in Travolta extortion case
Friday 23 October 2009
A judge declared a surprise mistrial late on Thursday in the case of two Bahamians accused of attempting to extort $25m (£15m) from the film star John Travolta in connection with the January death on the islands of his 16-year-old son, Jett Travolta.
Supreme Court Justice Anita Allen told jurors they were dismissed after a member of the Bahamian parliament announced, without explanation, at a political convention in Freeport that one of the defendants, former Senator Pleasant Bridgewater, had been acquitted. At the time, the jurors were still deliberating.
Representatives for Mr Travolta, who was the star witness at the weeks-long trial, said that the actor was "upset" by the unusual turn of events. But they added that he would continue to co-operate with the authorities as they turn to preparing for a second attempt to secure convictions.
The judge's decision, spurred by concerns that someone had leaked intelligence from inside the jury room, were reluctantly accepted by Bernard Turner, for the prosecution, who said he had been expecting convictions in the case. "We didn't want to take the chance there was some kind of indiscretion," he told reporters in Nassau, where the trial had been taking place.
The late-evening announcement by the judge was reported to have stunned the court. "We are concerned in the interest of justice that there has been a communication from the jury room," Justice Allen said.
Picewell Forbes, the MP, was attending a Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Convention in Freeport when he told colleagues that Ms Bridgewater had been acquitted. "Pleasant is a free woman, PLPs!" he shouted, according to Reuters news agency. "God is good, PLPs! Pleasant is a free woman! God still reigns PLPs!" After his outburst, the convention broke into dancing.
The debacle marked an odd anti-climax to a trial that had attracted international headlines, notably when Mr Travolta took the stand last month and for the first time acknowledged in public that his son had suffered from autism. He said that he had suffered seizures lasting for between 45 seconds to minutes every five to 10 days.
Jurors learned that Mr Travolta and his wife were awoken by a member of staff in their holiday home in the Bahamas on 2 January this year because Jett was in serious difficulties. The film star dashed downstairs and helped administer CPR until an ambulance arrived driven by Tarino Lightbourne.
Lawyers for the prosecution alleged that Mr Lightbourne was assisted by Ms Bridgewater in an attempt to blackmail Mr Travolta in connection with a form he signed that would have relieved the ambulance team of all liability had the family decided to send the child by air directly to Florida instead of to a local hospital. In the end, however, Mr Travolta decided against the airlift. Both Ms Bridgewater and her co-defendant, Mr Lightbourne had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
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