Judge boots juror from Kenyatta Johnson bribery trial, tells remaining members to begin deliberations anew
U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh did not explain the decision in open court. The jury’s deliberations will now start over with an alternate joining the panel as a replacement.
Jury deliberations in Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s federal bribery trial hit a significant snag Wednesday as the judge took the unusual step of replacing a juror mid-deliberations and telling the newly constituted panel to begin its discussions anew.
U.S. District Judge Gerald A. McHugh did not explain the replacement from the bench as he called the remaining jurors and the alternate tapped to join them into the courtroom just after noon.
His decision came after the original panel had spent 25 hours over four days discussing the case and several days of unusual activity signaling they had run into potential problems. Since Monday, McHugh and attorneys for both sides have spent hours cloistered in his chambers, occasionally summoning jurors one-by-one for individual interviews.
On Tuesday — and again Wednesday morning — the judge briefly entered the jury room himself to address the panel behind closed doors.
“Please deliberate in good faith,” McHugh told the new panel after making the replacement. “No one should surrender their position just because someone disagrees.”
Afterward, attorneys on both sides of the case declined to comment on what might have prompted the juror’s removal.
Johnson, a three-term Democrat from Point Breeze, stands accused of selling the powers of his office to two nonprofit executives seeking his assistance in holding on to troubled real estate assets in his district.
Prosecutors allege they funneled $67,000 to him between 2013 and 2014 through what the government has described as a “sham consulting contract” with Johnson’s wife, Dawn Chavous.
Johnson and Chavous have maintained their innocence through two trials — a first that ended in a hung jury and mistrial in April and, again, in the proceedings that have played out over the last month.
While it is unusual for a juror to be removed from the panel mid-deliberations, it is not unheard of.
In former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah’s 2016 corruption trial, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III replaced a member of that jury after finding that the man had refused to participate in the deliberations and told a member of the court staff he intended to hang the jury no matter what.
» READ MORE: Fattah juror: I will hang this jury no matter what
After he was replaced, the newly constituted panel convicted Fattah within a few hours.
But those events became a significant issue in the former congressman’s appeal. His attorneys argued the judge had overstepped and had removed a lone holdout who simply did not believe the government had met its burden of proof.
However, Bartle’s decision was later affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
This is a developing story and will be updated.