A shouting match that came close to a physical exchange erupted Wednesday among jurors deliberating federal drug trafficking charges against a former state narcotics agent and two co-defendants.
The conflict became so heated that one juror summoned a federal marshal, who found two groups of screaming panelists being restrained by other jurors.
The marshal instructed them to sit down and do nothing until they heard from U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder. Snyder summoned prosecutors and defense lawyers to brief them on the episode and determine how to respond.
She expressed fear that "personal dislikes are overtaking deliberations," which began last Thursday after seven weeks of testimony.
Charged are Richard Wayne Parker, 44, a 10-year veteran of the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement accused of stealing 650 pounds of cocaine from his agency's evidence locker, and co-defendants Christine Whitney, 27, of Redondo Beach and Pamela Sue Gray, 44, of Hermosa Beach.
"I'm absolutely dumbfounded as to what's going on," said Whitney's lawyer, Scott Furstman. Parker's attorney, Richard A. Hamar, said he fears the case is heading toward mistrial.
Gray's lawyer, Daniel G. Davis, said he has "this horrible feeling that these people have not gotten down to the job of evaluating the charges and the evidence." Snyder agreed.
It was not clear, however, what the jurors were arguing about. But the shouting occurred shortly after a juror showed up six hours late. Without him, the panel could not deliberate.
Snyder said the juror had telephoned the court in the morning to say he was having car problems and would not arrive until 10:30 a.m. Hours passed, however, with no further word from him, she said.
Finally, the judge said, her clerk tracked him down at the auto mechanic's shop and told him to take a taxi to the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Snyder said the juror's mechanic took blame for the delay and drove the juror to court.
This was not the first indication of strife on the panel. Snyder revealed Tuesday that some jurors had sent her notes discussing their views on the deliberations.
She admonished them afterward that only the foreman could send out notes to the court and that these are restricted to questions about the law, requests to review evidence or scheduling problems.