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Hung jury in Nicollette Sheridan's 'Desperate Housewives' case

Jurors in the actress' wrongful-termination suit deadlocked on whether her character was killed off as an act of retaliation or for creative reasons.

March 20, 2012|By Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
  • Juror Johnny Huynh leaves the courthouse in Los Angeles on Monday after the judge declared a mistrial in the "Desperate Housewives" case.
Juror Johnny Huynh leaves the courthouse in Los Angeles on Monday after… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Four years after a sweeps week audience watched Edie Britt, the bed-hopping real estate agent in "Desperate Housewives," draw her last breath, a Los Angeles jury said Monday that it could not decide the cause of her death.

A judge declared a mistrial in Nicollette Sheridan's wrongful-termination suit after jurors said they were deadlocked as to whether the actress' character was killed off the ABC show in an act of retaliation or for creative reasons.

Eight jurors — one short of the nine required for a verdict in civil court — sided with Sheridan, who alleged that she was written off the show because she complained that the program's creator, Marc Cherry, had struck her in the head during a 2008 rehearsal. The other four voted with Touchstone Television Productions, whose lawyers said Cherry never hit Sheridan and had plotted Edie's death months before the actress made the allegation.

The jury had deliberated for four days and on three of those days, sent notes to L.A. County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth White, saying they were unable to reach a verdict. In a note Friday, the foreman said the split hadn't changed since an initial vote the first day of deliberations.

During the two-week trial, numerous witnesses from the show recalled the 2008 incident that ended with Sheridan yelling, "You hit me! You can't hit me!" and storming from the set. The actress testified Cherry had given her a "wallop" to the temple after she repeatedly questioned a line of dialogue. Cherry and others present said he had only tapped her to demonstrate a playful smack he wanted her to give her on-screen husband at the close of a scene.

Two jurors who voted for Sheridan said the case came down to witness credibility. Juror Beverly Crosby said she found Sheridan believable while the accounts of defense witnesses "didn't hold water for me." Speaking to a throng of reporters on the courthouse steps, she dismissed defense suggestions that the actress' story was suspect because she had variously characterized the blow as a slap and a hit.

"The evidence showed she was struck, so we didn't get bogged down with the terminology," Crosby said. "I looked at the fact that she was touched without permission."

Sheridan's lawyers had argued that producers, executives and writers at ABC and the studio had coordinated their testimony to help Cherry, but juror Johnny Hyunh hesitated when asked if the witnesses seemed rehearsed.

"I wouldn't say scripted. It's more like the story didn't match," Hyunh said.

No jurors who cast their votes for Cherry attended the news conference.

The trial offered jurors a behind-the-scenes look at the soap, which is to end this spring after eight seasons. The picture painted was often unflattering. Jurors heard that tabloid leaks from the set were a constant problem. There were salary disputes and tiffs over forgotten lines. Sheridan said Cherry condescended to her, and he said she was rude, tardy and unprepared for rehearsals. He recounted the frustration of co-star Teri Hatcher when Sheridan missed her lines and said two other stars, Felicity Huffman and Eva Longoria, were "relieved" when they learned she was leaving the show.

Much of the testimony focused on the timing of Cherry's decision to kill off Edie. Ten witnesses said he made it months before the on-set incident, but two writers for the show said her fate was not sealed until afterward.

Lawyers for both sides said they expected to retry a case that involves millions of dollars. Sheridan, who earned $4 million a year playing Edie, is seeking at least $5.7 million for economic losses and potentially much more in punitive damages.

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