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Illness of panelist forces Scrushy jury to start anew


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The jury weighing fraud charges against HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard M. Scrushy had to start its work from scratch after the presiding judge replaced a juror for health reasons on the 17th day of deliberations.

U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre said she preferred to seat an alternate rather than proceed with 11 jurors at the trial, which began Jan. 25.

Jurors started deliberations May 19 and sent several notes indicating they were divided on the conspiracy charge at the heart of a 36-count indictment accusing Scrushy of inflating profit by $2.7 billion.

The juror replacement will delay any verdict of a panel that had already told Bowdre on June 3 that it was deadlocked. She urged them to keep working.

Since then, jurors failed to meet for six days because of illness, vacations or schedule conflicts. The judge called the jurors back to her courtroom yesterday to explain her decision and instruct them again on the law.

"The jury must begin its deliberations anew," Bowdre told them. "You do have to start from scratch in your discussions of the case and your efforts to reach a verdict."

Bowdre thanked jurors for their sacrifices and said the dismissed panelist, one of seven men on the 12-member jury, "tried hard to work through his health problems." She has sealed the identities of the original 12 jurors and six alternates. She dismissed two other jurors during the trial.

A former federal prosecutor, Robert A. Mintz, said jurors would have a head start compared with when they first began talks.

"In practice, they're not literally going back to Square 1, but to the extent they've reached any agreement on any of the counts those deliberations would have to begin anew," said Mintz, who is now with McCarter & English LLP in Newark, N.J.

After replacing the juror, Bowdre reread 78 pages of legal instructions that she read before closing arguments May 18. The process was expected to take two hours. Prosecutors and defense lawyers were in the courtroom listening and were not immediately available for comment.

Scrushy, 52, is accused of directing a $2.7 billion fraud at the company he built into the largest operator of rehabilitation hospitals in the United States.

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