Crying foul over Facebook
Fumo's defense asks judge to suspend deliberations & investigate blogging juror
"STAY TUNED for a big announcement on Monday everyone!"
So wrote a blogging juror who's been deliberating for five days in the public corruption trial of former state Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, in a comment posted Friday on his Facebook Internet profile.
The posting by Juror No. 5 - Eric Wuest of suburban College-ville - raised questions:
Is a verdict imminent? Did Wuest have third-party discussions about the trial as a result of his postings on Facebook and Twitter social networking Internet accounts during the 15-week trial and the ensuing deliberations?
Last night, Fumo defense attorneys NiaLena Caravasos and Peter Goldberger filed an emergency motion seeking an immediate suspension of deliberations so the judge could conduct "a delicate, but probing inquiry" of the juror Wuest's actions.
"Depending on the results, the lawyers wrote, "one or more jurors ought to be removed and possibly replaced."
The motion did not contain the name of the juror, though the names are a matter of public record and the jurors are not sequestered. But based on phrases in the motion, the Daily News found Wuest's Facebook postings.
The newspaper made no attempt to contact the juror.
Wuest neither warned readers nor discouraged responses to his postings of the trial, which were on Facebook's greater Philadelphia network where he has at least 96 "friends." These "friends have the ability to send him private e-mail messages in return," according to the court documents.
"It's impossible to know the extent to which other members of the jury may have been affected indirectly by third-party communication addressed to this juror," according to the document.
[Wuest removed the cited Facebook and Twitter portions within five hours of the filing.]
Fumo's lead attorney, Dennis Cogan, would not comment, nor would Robert A. Zauzmer, co-prosecutor of the five-month trial.
Wuest, 35, a benefits coordinator for a Center City law firm, has been posting status updates of the Fumo trial to friends and strangers on his Facebook and Twitter Internet accounts since Sept. 7, when an entry said he was "not sure if I'm excited for jury duty tomorrow or not??"
After 15 weeks of testimony by more than 100 witnesses, 25 hours of closing arguments and 1,300 exhibits, Wuest posted on March 4 that he "can't believe tomorrow may actually be the end!!!!"
The next day, March 5, after a half-day of deliberations, Wuest sent a text message on Twitter: "Day 1 has come to a close."
Last week, court observers said a rumor circulated that some jurors may be discussing the trial's length on Facebook.
Fumo, the longtime political powerbroker, is charged with obstruction of justice and with defrauding the state Senate, a South Philadelphia nonprofit he founded and a maritime museum of almost $3.5 million.
Co-defendant Ruth Arnao, former executive director of the nonprofit, is charged with defrauding the nonprofit, filing false tax returns and obstruction of justice.
On Mar. 8, Wuest had a Facebook exchange with a friend, after noting he was "not sure about tomorrow." The friend asked "Why?
"Think of the last five months dead," he replied, referring to the length of the trial.
On March 9, after the second day of deliberations, Wuest wrote on Facebook: "Today was much better than expected and tomorrow looks promising too!"
Trials are known for delays, and apparently Wuest had enough on Jan. 22 at 10:29 p.m.
"If there are any more delays on Monday, he's gonna scream!!!" wrote Wuest of himself in the third person.
On Jan. 8, Wuest was having second thoughts, after Verizon's former president Daniel Whelan was cross-examined about why he didn't tell investigators about Fumo wanting him to steer money to charities and law firms.
Wuest asked himself that night: "What if?" *
Daily News reporter Michael Hinkelman contributed to this report.