WASHINGTON — Juror No. 4 in Sen. Ted Stevens' federal corruption trial, otherwise known as Marian Hinnant, didn't leave the trial to attend her father's funeral in California, as she told the judge at the time.
Instead, Hinnant had a plane ticket to see the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles and didn't want to miss it, she told the judge Monday. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan had ordered her to court to find out why she'd left town and lost contact with him, forcing him to replace her just hours before the jury found the Republican Alaska senator guilty last week.
"I just wanted to go to the Breeders' Cup," she told reporters outside the courthouse in a rambling and at times incoherent interview.
Stevens, 84, is fighting for his political life in Tuesday's election against Democratic Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
Since a jury found Stevens guilty on seven counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts, he's continued to maintain his innocence. Relying on the technical definition of "conviction," which doesn't take effect until sentencing, Stevens has been telling supporters that he isn't a convicted felon. He's vowed to appeal on grounds that prosecutors engaged in rampant misconduct.
"This is another sad chapter in a trial that has been plagued by unusual occurrences," Stevens said in a statement Monday. "The facts that emerged today further demonstrate what we've dealt with in Washington, D.C., during the course of this trial."
The jury did have several problems, beginning on Oct. 22, its first day of deliberations, when jurors sent Sullivan a note asking to go home early because they were stressed and needed "clarity." The second day, they sent a note saying that one of the jurors was disruptive and prone to violent outbursts, and asking that she be removed from the jury. Sullivan lectured them on being civil and let them go home early.
That evening, he heard from Hinnant, who told him she needed to go to California to tend to her father's funeral. Sullivan suspended deliberations for a day while he determined what to do, then lost contact with Hinnant over the weekend. He brought in an alternate juror on Oct. 27; within hours, the jury came to a unanimous verdict of guilty on all seven counts.
On Monday, on her way from the courthouse to the subway, Hinnant told reporters that she would have found the Alaska senator guilty had she remained on the jury.
"He didn't do anything any other congressman or senator or governor or president has not done," she said. "He was guilty, but these other ones are just as guilty if not more guilty."
Hinnant, a petite woman who works as an Avis car-rental agent at Union Station, was wearing her red Avis uniform Monday in court. The 52-year-old has a distinctive appearance, dominated by a teased mass of long blond hair. She was wearing heavy eyeliner that was emphasized by her black-framed glasses, a style popularized in the late 1980s by the talk-show host Sally Jessy Raphael.
Her lawyer, federal public defender A.J. Kramer, tried to keep her from saying much in court, telling the judge only that "her state of mind was such that she had to go to California."
"She apologizes to the court. In fact, her father did not die," Kramer said. "The story about her father was just one that popped into her head."
Hinnant cut in, however, and in a thick Kentucky drawl gave a rambling, incoherent and completely baffling monologue about her former employers in the horse-racing industry in Kentucky. She mentioned drugs, wiretaps and horse racing but made little sense.
"I'm not the one who was selling the drugs; I'm not the one who was doing the drugs," she said, a comment that baffled nearly everyone in the courtroom.
She said she felt a bit guilty about leaving behind her responsibilities but that she really wanted to attend the Breeders' Cup.
"I didn't think they would go this long," she said of the four-week trial. "And I needed to go to California; I wanted to go to Breeders' Cup. I worked in the horse industry."
Bizarre as Hinnant's story is, it's unlikely that her lies as a juror could be grounds for overturning the verdict or for an appeal, said Mike Seidman, a professor of constitutional and criminal law at Georgetown University Law Center. The judge acted on the information he had at the time, not information he gleaned later, he said.
It's also unlikely that Hinnant's presence would have changed the verdict. The juror herself said that fellow jurors should have come to a verdict sooner, but they were "slow in finishing it up" because some were "messing around." She also said several times that she thought Stevens was guilty, although she also said she thought that, universally, politicians were "all guilty."
Sullivan let her go without sanctioning her, saying that he was going to "accept Mr. Kramer's representation that you were not able to (deliberate) and for reasons that were serious to you."
He added: "I'm convinced you were not able to deliberate."