Mistrial declared in Eversole trial

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by Doug Miller & Kevin Reece / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on March 30, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 31 at 10:11 AM

HOUSTON—Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s political corruption trial ended in a mistrial Wednesday, as deadlocked jurors disagreed on whether the money and gifts he accepted from a county contractor constituted bribes.

Eversole and county contractor Michael Surface were charged last December in an indictment that laid out a list of alleged bribes the contractor gave to Eversole—everything from vacations to an expensive suit to a down payment on his house. Prosecutors argued that the commissioner accepted gifts and personal loans in exchange for his support on county contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. 

Eversole’s defense attorney argued the gifts—including $17,000 in landscaping, $30,000 in antique guns and a $63,000 check funneled through a series of bank accounts to pay off Eversole’s mortgage—were merely the products of a long friendship that started years before the commissioner was elected.

Eversole himself had predicted that the federal investigation would force him from office. He startled even some of his supporters when he blurted to a reporter that federal agents who’d interviewed his associates could almost certainly build a case against him.

The mistrial came despite a federal judge’s extraordinary efforts to break the deadlock, calling on jurors to write questions for the attorneys and ordering the attorneys to address those questions in a second set of closing arguments Tuesday, and then reading the Allen Charge to still-deadlocked jurors on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, after further deliberation, the jurors still couldn’t agree on Eversole’s guilt or innocence.

Eversole walked out of federal court a free man, but it wasn’t a complete victory – at least 10 out of the 12 jurors felt like Eversole shouldn’t remain in office.

"He should be kicked out of office immediately," Hopkins said.

Juror Leticia Mudryk agreed.

"Same thing. He’s an elected official. And guilty," she said.

"My conviction was guilty on all counts. And that is strictly on evidence and patterns of behavior," Juror Barbara Hicks said.

 

"He should resign today, immediately in my opinion, and go to prison," said juror Loren Hoffman.

Jurors said as deliberations dragged into the third day, more of them were convinced the commissioner was guilty of bribery, conspiracy, and filing false tax returns to hide those gifts.

Jurors were split 10 to 2 in favor of convicting the commissioner the bribery and tax return charges, but were more evenly split at 5 to 7 on the conspiracy charge.

The unusual approach of allowing the attorneys to answer juror questions during deliberations and to present part of their closing arguments a second time did sway a few more to the guilty side.

But not two jurors, who saw Eversole and developer Michael Surface as friends, not corrupt conspirators.

"We’re disappointed there wasn’t a verdict, but appreciative that we’re gonna get another opportunity," Hardin said.

A retrial with a different jury may happen as early as next month.

"The thing that I still say we’ve got going for us is we’re telling the truth. And I think that’s what Rusty will prove in about four weeks," Eversole said.

Hardin said he might consider presenting a defense next time.

Federal prosecutors also must try Michael Surface.

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