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In Read case, judge has few options to resolve deadlocked jury


In Read case, judge has few options to resolve deadlocked jury

“There’s really nothing else that she can do. And there’s no question, it’s a very fraught moment — what you say when the jury has gathered to deliberate is really important,” said retired federal judge Nancy Gertner.

But those instructions — known in legal circles as a “dynamite charge” — risk putting pressure on jurors, or influencing them to change their positions in order to reach a verdict, experts warned.

“The dynamite charge is basically like the judge throwing a stick of dynamite into a room where they don’t know what’s really going on,” said Randy Gioia, the retired deputy chief counsel for the Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

“The biggest risk is that one or more of the jurors are going to give up their honest convictions about their view of the evidence,” Gioia said.

Read is accused of killing her boyfriend, Boston Police Officer John O’Keefe, by backing into him with her SUV in Canton after a night of drinking in January 2022. She is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter while operating under the influence of alcohol, and leaving a scene of personal injury and death.

Read’s lawyers say she is the victim of a police coverup. They allege O’Keefe was murdered inside the home of a fellow Boston police officer and dumped outside during a snowstorm.

The jury began deliberations Tuesday, following a nearly two-month trial. On Friday, the jury sent a note to Cannone saying they were deadlocked, despite an “exhaustive review” of the evidence.

Read’s lawyers argued that the jury was at an impasse and urged the judge to give the special instruction for deadlocked juries. Prosecutors urged Cannone to ask jurors to keep deliberating, without issuing any instructions.

Siding with the prosecution, Cannone told jurors to continue deliberating, without reminding them that it was their civic duty to try to reach a verdict.

The judge told the lawyers there were “very complex issues in this case” and she didn’t find the jury had thoroughly deliberated.

The jury deliberated for several more hours Friday and was told to resume deliberations Monday.

If the Read jury remains deadlocked, Cannone may have to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors would have to decide whether to try Read again, attempt to reach a deal with her, or drop the charges.

“It’s a tough one because no one wants it tried again due to the pretrial publicity,” defense lawyer Tim Flaherty said in a message to the Globe Sunday. He described Cannone as an excellent judge and said she “will do all she can to try to get a verdict while keeping the trial fair.”

Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University School of Law professor, said he’s not surprised the jury is deadlocked.

The case has generated strong feelings among observers, and it makes sense those feelings might be replicated in the jury room, Medwed said.

“I think what Judge Cannone is doing right now, is that she recognizes that giving that charge is, to some extent, [a] last ditch effort,” Medwed said. “And so before she gives that charge, she wants to see if the jurors can work it through themselves.”

Cannone is prohibited from interfering with jury deliberations — meaning she can’t question the panel about which way they are leaning, or whether any jurors have made up their minds in the case.

Sending a deadlocked jury back to work repeatedly could risk pressuring it to reach a verdict, according to Gertner, Gioia, and Medwed.

Gioia said in the Read case, with conflicting testimony and evidence presented at trial, jurors face difficult decisions.

“Is it guilt or not guilt? Is it murder or manslaughter? Or is it some combination?” Gioia said. “That’s what makes this case a bit tricky is that there are those issues — not only guilt or not guilt, but there’s the degree of guilt, if there is guilt.”

Gertner said the jury would still be doing its job if it is unable to reach a decision in the Read case. A no verdict is a decision in itself, she said.

“In other words, if they cannot come to a decision, then that’s actually a verdict that says that the 12 people couldn’t agree that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Gertner said.

John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected].

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