US v. Bussell
No. 02-50495 (7-12-05). This presents an interesting issue: what to tell the jury when a codefendant (and spouse) dies during jury deliberations. The defendant, and deceased husband, were on trial for bankruptcy fraud. It was a long and bitterly fought trial. After the jury got the case, and sent out two questions pertaining to the husband (but before answering), the husband fell to his death from his hotel room (the district court, always sensitive, characterized it as a suicide; the defendant disputes this). The court then told the jury that the case against the husband had been disposed of, and they shouldn't speculate about it. Of course they did ("did he take a deal?"). They convicted the wife. The 9th noted that there was no objection to the instruction, usually given when a codefendant pleads out during trial. The 9th also didn't consider the jury affidavits that they speculated on what happened. The 9th did note that there was some precedent for actually telling the jury the truth about the absence -- that the husband died, and that may be a sound choice, but under a plain error analysis, the instruction wasn't going to lead to a vacation (of the conviction anyway). [Query: if the husband was going to take the fall for the wife, wouldn't he have done it before hand?] The 9th found that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict, and that the questions on the bankruptcy petition form weren't too vague.