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Verdict Reached in Minister’s Case

February 27, 1999

LARGO, Fla. (AP) _ Jurors in the racketeering trial of the National Baptist Convention USA president reached a verdict today, then it was sealed while a judge considered a defense request for a mistrial.

The verdict came on the third day of deliberations in the racketeering trial of the Rev. Henry Lyons, the powerful Baptist leader accused of fleecing companies of more than $4 million.

An anonymous e-mail sent to two media outlets accused a juror of discussing deliberations outside the jury room.

``It caused great concern on our part,″ Lyons’ attorney, Denis DeVlaming, told Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer in asking for a mistrial.

The e-mail said the female juror on the six-member panel was overheard saying jurors were convinced of Lyons’ guilt. The woman allegedly expressed dissatisfaction and concern at being the only holdout against finding co-defendant Bernice Edwards guilty.

Schaeffer summoned the juror to the courtroom. The juror denied the conversation. Furthermore, she said she didn’t know the writer of the e-mail.

Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, and co-defendant Bernice Edwards are accused of financing a lavish lifestyle with money from companies seeking to do business with convention members.

Prosecutors say Lyons and Ms. Edwards duped the companies by selling them a bogus 8.5 million-member mailing list and then used the money to buy a waterfront home, a time-share condominium, a huge diamond ring and luxury cars.

Lyons also is charged with grand theft, accused of stealing almost $250,000 from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, money intended to rebuild burned churches in the South.

If convicted, Lyons faces between three and seven years in prison. Edwards faces three to five years in prison if she is convicted.

Lyons also faces a federal trial in April on 54 counts, including tax evasion, money laundering and extortion.

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