In an extraordinary case of a jury room dispute spilling into public view, a Suffolk Superior Court jury was dismissed yesterday after a male juror was accused of sexually harassing several women on the panel during lengthy deliberations in a 2004 murder case.
The judge, while expressing skepticism over the harassment allegations, said he nonetheless had no choice but to declare a mistrial.
The jury foreman sent a note to Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady on Wednesday saying that 11 of the 12 jurors were ready to convict Quincy Butler and William Wood for torturing and killing Betsy Tripp in her Dorchester home.
The five-page note, which was acted on yesterday, said the lone holdout was adamant in his view that prosecutors failed to prove their case. The note added that the holdout was also making women jurors - eight were deliber ating - uncomfortable.
"The women jurors feel sexually harassed (multiple times) by this juror," wrote foreman Thomas G. Kelly of Boston. "And at least one feels unsafe, afraid."
In a telephone interview last night, the juror accused of sexual harassment insisted the allegation surfaced only because he was resolutely opposed to convicting the two men.
He said he did show a woman juror a suggestive cartoon he had on his cellphone, but said the woman did not object at the time.
"I never harassed anyone. We were fine up to the point where I would not give them what they wanted. I needed a little bit more than what the prosecution gave me," he said.
"I probably think they [the defendants] are guilty, but I'm going on the instruction on what the judge said: The benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant."
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Patrick M. Haggan urged Brady to question jurors individually about the harassment allegations - an idea defense attorneys Larry Tipton and Michael Bourbeau strongly opposed.
Brady rejected the suggestion and instead reached out to a ranking state judge for advice.
"I am afraid it's part of the jury system," Brady said from the bench, addressing the accusation of inappropriate behavior. "Occasionally we will get idiosyncratic, unusual, odd, and maybe irrational jurors."
But in a written ruling, Brady disclosed his belief that the complaints of sexual harassment were fabricated.
He said the jury had sent him several notes during their deliberations, and it was only the last one that made any reference to sexual harassment.
"I treat the situation where 11 jurors for conviction would like to remove the stubborn holdout from deliberations," Brady wrote.
Prosecutors asked Supreme Judicial Court Justice Margot Botsford to overturn the ruling, but she sided with Brady, saying he was in the best position to interpret the jury's actions.
As a result, when jurors once again said they could not reach a unanimous verdict, Brady declared a mistrial and sent the jurors home.
The original jury deliberated for four days before one juror was dismissed for health reasons. An alternate joined the jury April 9 and deliberations resumed.
In telephone interviews, the foreman and two jurors declined to discuss the sexual harassment allegations. Kelly, the foreman, said an incident took place earlier this week, but would not provide any details.
"It was not a severe situation," he said of the alleged incident between the male juror and at least one woman panelist. "It was an incident that was brief."
A second juror, who asked that her name not be published, said she was heartbroken that relatives of Tripp will now have to wait months longer for a verdict and justice for the slain 49-year old victim.
Tripp was targeted after her boyfriend, Morris Thompson, was allegedly attacked by Butler and Wood, who were allegedly seeking money for drugs.
Thompson was shot in the eye and testified in the trial.
"Most of us all feel very badly that we weren't able to offer the verdict," said the second juror, who spent 10 days deliberating. "I hope they get the justice that they deserve."
Butler, 34, and Wood, 33, are both charged with first-degree murder among other charges and have pleaded not guilty. Brady plans to retry the case June 9.