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Noriega Defense Wants to Question Jurors About God, Bush

April 24, 1992

MIAMI (AP) _ Manuel Noriega’s defense said Friday some jurors improperly invoked God and President Bush to persuade a holdout to vote for conviction, but legal scholars say the issue is unlikely to overturn the verdict.

A defense motion filed with U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler requested permission to interview the jurors about statements they made in post-trial news interviews.

″It’s an extremely narrow gateway for mounting a challenge to a jury verdict - unless we count God as an outside influence here,″ said Paul Rothstein, a law professor at George Washington University.

The jury deliberated five days before reaching guilty verdicts on eight of 10 drug and racketeering counts against the deposed Panamanian leader.

The foreman indicated on the third day that deliberations were stalled, but the jury reached a verdict April 9 after the judge asked them to continue.

″The method by which the jurors achieved unanimity, however, resulted in the use of outside influences,″ said the motion filed by attorney Jon May.

The holdout, Bernadine Cooper, told other jurors she believed Noriega was innocent and would not change her mind, his motion said.

Several jurors then prayed with her at the hotel where the panel was sequestered, said the defense, citing news reports.

One juror, Jean Hallisey, reportedly told Ms. Cooper the panel could not remain deadlocked.

″The whole world is waiting for this verdict. President Bush is waiting for this verdict,″ the defense motion quoted Mrs. Hallisey as saying.

Ms. Cooper changed her mind on the last day of deliberations, according to news interviews.

The defense also brought up another issue concerning Ms. Cooper. She served once on a jury in a criminal case argued by Frank Rubino, Noriega’s main attorney, but never mentioned that during extensive jury selection questioning.

The earlier case ended in an acquittal, and the defense motion suggested other jurors could have used that to pressure Ms. Cooper by saying she favored Rubino.

Hoeveler is out of town for two weeks for vacation and judicial conferences, according to his office. It was not known when he might rule on the motion.

Rothstein and other legal experts say any judge would be reluctant to go into the details of deliberations.

″The jury is the bedrock of the criminal justice system. They are the ultimate fact finder, and they have discretion to deliberate and make a decision without being questioned,″ said Martin Rosenthal, managing attorney of Harvard law school’s criminal justice institute.

Before a judge would throw out a jury verdict, the judge would want to see evidence of outside pressure from a bailiff, police officer, family member or someone else, Rothstein said. Comments by other jurors during deliberations - even threats - are generally not grounds for a new trial, he said.

Jurors citing God or even the president to another juror would not fit the requirement that the defense show outside influence, he said.

Of all the issues raised by the defense, Ms. Cooper’s failure to mention the earlier trial with Rubino might be the strongest, Rothstein said.

But even then, he cautioned, the judge would want proof that the issue had a material effect on the guilty verdict.

Noriega remains in the Metropolitan Correctional Center awaiting his July 10 sentencing. He faces a possible sentence of 120 years in prison.

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