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Majority of jurors in bribery trial voted for acquittal

A majority of the jurors in the “Ghost Lobby” trial voted for acquittal for all four defendants, foreperson Taryn Jeffries said in an exclusive interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.

Jeffries said the government’s arguments were not strong enough for seven jurors to buy the alleged conspiracy.

Judge John Tuchi of U.S. District Court in Phoenix declared a mistrial Tuesday after jurors reported they were deadlocked.

Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce was accused of accepting $31,500 in bribes from utility owner George Johnson in exchange for Pierce’s favorable votes while he sat on the ACC.

Lobbyist Jim Norton allegedly facilitated the bribes by directing his then-wife to hire Pierce’s wife, Sherry Pierce, at her firm, KNB Consulting, through which the money was funneled.

Taryn Jeffries

Taryn Jeffries

“We never saw the circle completed,” said Jeffries, who was one of the seven jurors favoring acquittal.

She specifically pointed to Gary Pierce’s affirmative vote for a tax pass-through policy that allowed Johnson, and other utility owners like him, to pass on his personal income tax liability to customers of Johnson Utilities in Pinal County. Pierce had expressed support for the policy years before the vote and alleged scheme, she said.

She said she also felt the prosecutors knew they didn’t have a strong case but decided to go for it anyway “and see if it stuck.”

The five jurors who did side with the prosecution were in favor of guilty verdicts for each defendant, Jeffries said.

She said they believed the prosecutors had proven Pierce was happy to accept a “paycheck” for votes he was already willing to take.

Jeffries said the jurors in favor of a guilty verdict also relied more heavily on the testimony of Kelly Norton and Gayle Burns.

Norton was the unindicted co-conspirator in the case. She was granted immunity in exchange for her account of wrongdoing she said was devised by her now ex-husband, Jim Norton.

Jeffries was not so quick to take Kelly Norton at her word. She said she noticed inconsistencies in her statements that led Jeffries to question her story.

And Jeffries didn’t think Burns, wife of current Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns, did an especially good job of backing Norton up.

In the end, the prosecution’s case just was not enough to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jurors had to agree on 32 separate charges, eight for each defendant, and Jeffries said even knowing where to begin was difficult, let alone coming to a unanimous agreement.

“There were people who had very strong opinions on both sides,” she said, alluding to a note she gave to the judge. “We just talked in circles.”

Jeffries equated it to trying to sway the opinion of someone who has posted a highly political meme on Facebook.

“You’re not ever going to change anyone’s opinion by doing that,” she said. “We were all kind of set where we were, and there was nothing that could be done.”

As the foreperson, it was her job to pen the letter to Tuchi informing him of the impasse. She considered it their job to deliver a verdict, and writing that note to the judge was hard for her.

The note was initially confusing to the court, as it simultaneously indicated the jurors had “failed to make progress” on a verdict but also requested suggestions for how to move forward.

Tuchi contemplated instructing the jurors to continue their deliberations, but after polling them individually about whether they were truly deadlocked, one point all 12 jurors agreed on, he determined they were hung and gave no further instruction beyond releasing them.

“If you go to work, you can’t be given an assignment and just go back to your boss and say, ‘I can’t figure it out. Sorry,’” she said. “It was difficult for all of us.”

The prosecution has until August 13 to decide on whether to retry the case.

Jeffries later tweeted that Tuchi told the jurors a second trial would not begin until at least January if at all.

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