Bell jury wants more testimony read back; still no verdict

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Before leaving the courthouse Thursday without reaching a verdict, jurors in the Bell corruption trial asked for a read-back of testimony regarding one defendant’s pay and another’s ability to read and write.

The testimony will be read to the panel Friday, when jurors will mark a full three weeks of deliberating the fates of six former Bell council members accused of misappropriating public funds.

The four-week trial of Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal went to the jury Feb. 22, but deliberations were slowed when a juror was dismissed for misconduct and the panel appeared deadlocked.

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In the days after an alternate juror was named, the panel has had multiple questions and requested testimony read-backs. They appear to be struggling to determine whether the council members’ annual salaries of up to $100,000 –- drawn from serving on boards and authorities that rarely met –- were legal.

At one point, the jury asked for a copy of the state Constitution as well as clarifications of California law on compensation for elected officials.

Last Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy said she felt the jury was close and that they might have a decision that day.

‘Fridays are really good days for verdicts,’ she said.

A week later, it’s not clear if the jury has made progress.

In the note sent Thursday to Kennedy, jurors requested a read-back of Jacobo’s testimony regarding a conversation she had with then-City Administrator Robert Rizzo about working full time for Bell.

It was Rizzo, Jacobo testified in February, who informed her she would be able to quit her job as a real estate agent and receive a pay boost from the city. Jurors also requested a read-back of any testimony relating to Hernandez’s ability to read and write English, as well as City Clerk Rebecca Valdez’s testimony about slipping Rizzo’s doctored contracts into a stack of papers to be signed by Hernandez.


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-- Corina Knoll