The jury trying Gen. William C. Westmoreland's $120-million libel suit against CBS was leaning strongly in favor of the network when the general suddenly agreed to drop his 2 1/2-year battle before the case could go to the panel for a verdict.
Interviewed after their dismissal Tuesday in the courtroom where they had listened to testimony for more than four months, jurors expressed sympathy and admiration for the 70-year-old general, but a majority of them indicated that they probably would not have voted to award him damages.
"I think Gen. Westmoreland feels he was doing his duty," said Patricia Roth, a Manhattan art teacher, but she said she had nevertheless concluded that the CBS documentary, "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," was true.
Several of the 11 jurors who consented to be interviewed said they had not made up their minds, but only one said he had been leaning toward Westmoreland.
The CBS broadcast of more than three years ago reported that Westmoreland had conspired to deceive his superiors and President Lyndon B. Johnson by underestimating enemy troop strength in the Vietnam War so it would appear that the United States was winning the conflict.
With the trial expected to go to the jury within days, Westmoreland brought the historic case to a dramatic end Monday, saying that he was satisfied with a joint statement in which CBS acknowledged his patriotism and loyalty.
Some members of the jury expressed a feeling of frustration that they had not been permitted to render a verdict, but others agreed with U.S. District Judge Pierre N. Leval, who suggested that the early end to the case was for the best.
After formally accepting the settlement worked out by opposing lawyers, Leval told the jury Tuesday that any possible court decision would have been subject to continuing disagreement.
'May Be for the Best'
"I say to you that it may be for the best that the verdict be left to history," he said.
Saying that some issues of historical importance are "too subtle and complex" to be decided by a finding in favor of one side or the other, he added that "the value of this proceeding may have more to do with . . . the record it has created" for historians.
After they were dismissed, jurors met briefly with the judge in his chambers, then returned to the courtroom where they mingled with lawyers, reporters, Westmoreland's entourage and the defendants, some of them collecting autographs.
The one juror who said he had been leaning toward Westmoreland's side when the final testimony was heard last week was Michael Sussman, a 42-year-old accountant. Sussman said he considered CBS' performance less than professional because the contested documentary had not included enough interviews with those who would have supported the general's side of the story. "It was reckless disregard for the truth," he said.
Still Not Sure
But Sussman and several fellow jurors admitted that after 18 weeks of testimony they still were not sure what the truth was.
Eileen Miller said she had concluded that CBS officials believed the program to be true, and, therefore, were not guilty of malice, but she said she still had not reached a conclusion in her own mind on the truth of the documentary's charges.
Returning to the courtroom after the meeting in Leval's chambers, juror Philip Chase sought out co-defendant Sam Adams and told him: "I want to shake your hand because I think you are a hero. I think it was really important to bring this out to the public."
Adams, at the time of the events covered by the documentary, was a CIA analyst who had become convinced that the enemy troop strength in Vietnam was far higher--about 200,000 higher--than was being officially reported by Westmoreland's command.
Searched for Information
In the wake of the controversy between the military and the CIA over the troop-count issue, Adams quit the CIA and spent years searching for information to support his belief that there had been a purposeful deception. His reporting led to the CBS documentary, and he served the network as a paid consultant.
When Westmoreland sued the network, Adams was named as a co-defendant along with CBS correspondent Mike Wallace and George Crile, the program's producer.
Chase was not the only juror for whom Adams' testimony was pivotal.
When questioned during jury selection last October, Roth, the art teacher, was asked whether there was an American public figure for whom she held special high regard, and she replied: "I wish there was."
While the jury was at lunch one day during CBS' six weeks of defense testimony, she told alternate juror Cheryl Raymond: "I now have one--Sam Adams."
700 Pages of Notes
The foreman of the panel, Richard Benveniste, an insurance underwriter, said he was leaning toward CBS. So did David Lederman, a research technician, who said he had about 700 pages of notes, and Randy Frost, a foreman for a cosmetics manufacturer. Miller, a bank employee, and Myron Gold, an Internal Revenue Service employee, said they were undecided.
Westmoreland's decision to accept the joint statement worked out with CBS lawyers and drop the court fight came on the heels of testimony by retired Maj. Gen. Joseph A. McChristian and retired Col. Gains B. Hawkins, who had served as intelligence officers under him in Vietnam.
McChristian told the jury that Westmoreland had refused in May of 1967 to forward a cable reporting sharply higher estimates of enemy troop strength, and Hawkins testified that the U.S. commander had said that higher estimates that were reported to him shortly later were "politically unacceptable."