One juror in the trial of Paul Manafort may have started weighing evidence too soon, prompting a call for a mistrial. Another said Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman could have been convicted on all 18 counts he faced, were it not for a sole holdout.
Neither happened. But behind the scenes, both possibilities were at play, according to court documents and a juror’s statements after Manafort’s eight-count conviction on Aug. 21 in Alexandria, Virginia. The federal court jury battled intense pressure, shouting matches, tears and potentially outcome-changing missteps to reach its verdict, all of it underscoring a courtroom truism: a carefully choreographed trial can turn on the actions of a single juror.
The drama could be replayed soon. A second trial for Manafort is scheduled to begin next month, across the Potomac River in Washington. The backstage turmoil from the first trial highlights some of the challenges U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson may need to navigate in overseeing another politically charged case against a former key aide to the president’s campaign.
The new panel must evaluate evidence prosecutors say supports a seven-count indictment accusing the former political strategist of conspiring to launder money, failing to register as a lobbyist for the pro-Russian government of ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and obstructing justice. The most serious of those counts — money laundering and obstruction — carry top sentences of 20 years in prison.
“All three parties have an interest in having an unbiased jury,” said former Justice Department lawyer Jon Jacobs, referring to both sides and the judge. Jacobs was part of the team that won an U.S. antitrust suit last year before Jackson that blocked Anthem Inc. from acquiring rival health insurer Cigna Corp.
While the judge in Alexandria, T.S. Ellis III, was criticized for frequently chastising prosecutors in front of the jury, it’s unlikely Jackson would comment “pro or con about the merits of the case in front of the jury,” Jacobs said.
Prospective jurors won’t be excused from serving for having seen reports of the Alexandria case, unless they’ve formed unshakable opinions, he said.
It’s possible the defence may seek to postpone the second trial or have it moved to another location because of the heavy media coverage of the first case in the Washington area, said former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi.