The judge in the federal trial of Richard M. Scrushy, the ousted chief executive of the HealthSouth Corporation who is facing a possible life sentence for fraud charges, has fiercely sought to keep the identities of the 12-member jury in the case secret. The seven men and five women are known only by their numbers, assigned at the start of the trial in Birmingham, Ala. But disagreement among the jurors on the government’s crucial conspiracy charge has threatened a mistrial, casting attention on the jurors themselves, reports the New York Times. Some observers say Scrushy’s lawyers have orchestrated a masterful manipulation of the subtle differences in class and race that still simmer in Birmingham, which has generated curiosity about the jurors, most from relatively modest economic backgrounds.
At least some of the jurors appear confounded by the complexity of the case. They have sat through four months of testimony in which former executives at HealthSouth, including five chief financial officers, described an elaborate scheme to commit fraud under Scrushy. And in another troubling sign for prosecutors, the forewoman appears unable to move her peers closer to a decision, or even to control the communication between jury and judge. Even Judge Karon O. Bowdre seemed a little flummoxed by the jury’s inability to understand her 78 pages of instructions. “When jurors really get hung up on the language they’re dealing with, those are exactly the people the defense is looking for, people who require a high level of evidence sufficiency,” said one jury consultant.