LOS ANGELES -- After days of evident bickering on the jury, a judge yesterday removed and replaced one of the jurors in the trial of two black men accused of beating a white truck driver and ordered that deliberations start over.
Responding to an emotional note from the jury forewoman saying the juror "cannot comprehend anything that we've been trying to accomplish," Judge John W. Ouderkirk of Superior Court, dismissed the juror for "failing to deliberate as the law defines it."
Jury procedure requires the reconstituted jury to begin deliberations from the start.
Legal experts called Judge Ouderkirk's move risky and highly unusual and said it would probably be an element in an appeal if the two men, Damian Monroe Williams, 20, and Henry Keith Watson, 29, are convicted.
They are accused of beating the truck driver, Reginald O. Denny, and seven other people in the first hours of riots that broke out in South Central Los Angeles in late April and early May 1992, leaving 52 dead.
Notes that the jurors sent to Judge Ouderkirk gave no indication that the dismissed juror was standing in the way of an emerging decision.
Legal experts said there is a fine line between a juror who is recalcitrant and combative and a juror who is not mentally competent to deliberate, as the jurors' note implied.
A note from the jury forewoman said 11 of the jurors agreed that they could no longer work with the dismissed juror. A court officer said no formal vote was taken.
Before dismissing the juror, a black woman in her 50s or 60s, Judge Ouderkirk interviewed her and three other jurors behind closed doors. Only a review after the trial of transcripts of the hearing will reveal the basis for the judge's decision, which was made under a California law that allows removal for "good cause."
The black woman was replaced by lottery by one of three alternates, an Asian woman, leaving four Hispanic jurors, three blacks, three whites and two Asians to deliberate the case. The forewoman, who wrote most of the notes to the judge, is black.