For the second time in six months, jurors deadlocked on whether former Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy Morse used excessive force when he slammed a teenager onto a police car during an arrest recorded on videotape and broadcast worldwide.
The jury reported it was hopelessly divided Friday morning, with six votes for conviction and six for acquittal. When asked by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Hollingsworth if there were any possibility of a unanimous verdict, the foreman said, "No, your honor. I think there is no chance whatsoever."
Morse stared straight ahead as Hollingsworth declared a mistrial. At Morse's first trial in July, jurors split 7-5 against the former officer. A unanimous decision is required for conviction or acquittal.
Jeanne Clarke, a juror in the second trial, said the deliberations were agonizing.
Jurors viewed the tape more than two dozen times, she said, and disagreed on whether 16-year-old Donovan Jackson was conscious when Morse threw him on the car. Clarke said she didn't believe that the force was excessive because Jackson wasn't seriously hurt, but others disagreed.
"I don't know that you could find 12 people that agree on this," Clarke, a nurse, said Friday evening. "We all felt for Jeremy. We all felt for Donovan. The whole thing was a train wreck.
"We watched the tape backwards and forwards. We watched it frame by frame. We all saw the tape and we all saw something different," Clarke said.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who is seeking reelection in five weeks, must now decide whether to try Morse a third time. His spokeswoman said a decision is expected before Friday, Morse's next scheduled court hearing.
"Criminal cases brought against police officers are challenges for law enforcement, the criminal justice system and the community," Cooley said in a written statement. "It is unfortunate that two juries have not been able to reach a decision on this case."
If convicted, Morse, 26, could be sentenced to three years in prison for assault under color of authority. His attorney, John Barnett, said he didn't expect prosecutors to go forward with a third trial.
"I think it's the end of the road," Barnett said outside court Friday. "I don't think there will ever be a unanimous verdict in this case."
Barnett said it was hard for jurors to agree because even experts disagree about how much force can legally be used to subdue a suspect.
"If a guilty verdict was reached in this [case], then no police officer would be able to exercise his duties," Barnett said.
Jackson's aunt, Nancy Goins, said she also didn't believe there would be another trial. Goins said she expected a hung jury. "I wasn't really surprised," she said in a phone interview. "There is not a lot of justice in cases like this."
Though prosecutors have sought third and fourth trials against defendants, experts say the chances of a conviction diminish over time. Judge Hollingsworth could also dismiss the charge against Morse after considering several factors, including the seriousness of the crime, whether prosecutors have additional evidence and the cost of retrial.
That's what happened in the case of Los Angeles Police Department Officer Douglas J. Iversen, who was charged in the killing of an unarmed tow-truck driver. After two juries deadlocked, a judge ruled in 1995 that the district attorney's office could not prosecute him a third time.
The seven women and five men on the Morse jury deliberated for nearly two days before announcing Thursday afternoon that they could not agree. The judge ordered them to try again, but they reported the same result Friday.
Though law enforcement officers were put on alert Friday afternoon, Inglewood was calm. "There was absolutely nothing," Inglewood Police Lt. Mike McBride said.
Unlike the first trial last year, when spectators overflowed into the courthouse hallways, there were empty seats Friday in the courtroom. About 20 people gathered at the courthouse near Los Angeles International Airport, a few carrying signs that said, "Hands Across Inglewood. Peace After The Verdict."
"Whether right or wrong, the jury has spoken," said Jose Martinez, associate director of the Stop the Violence, Increase the Peace Foundation. "No matter how we feel about the verdict, this community is resolved not to resort to any type of violence or destructive behavior."
Community activists expressed anger at the deadlock. The case had racial overtones because Morse is white and Jackson is black.
"I'm shocked, disappointed and outraged," said Najee Ali of Project Islamic HOPE. "Once again, the black community did not get a just verdict."
Clarke said the jurors' decision was not racially motivated. "It wasn't divided along racial lines at all," she said. "We want the community to know that it was never black and white."
She said that she and her fellow jurors all held strong convictions. "As a group, we really left there feeling that we had really looked at all the evidence," she said.