Prosecutors are asking a federal appeals court to uphold former Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s conviction in a charity scam, blasting her arguments that a juror was improperly dismissed because he said the “Holy Spirit” told him Brown was not guilty.
In a 62-page brief filed last week in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, prosecutors said a district judge acted properly in replacing the juror with an alternate and disputed that the decision violated the religious rights of the man, identified in court documents as Juror No. 13.
“The decision to remove a sitting juror is a significant one that justifiably warrants careful, albeit deferential, review by this (appeals) court,” the document said. “The district court’s decision here handily withstands that review. The court took this issue very seriously and removed the juror only after having carefully considered whether that juror would be able to follow the court’s instructions and decide the case based on the evidence. And the court did so only after having concluded that the juror’s decision --- that he had been told by the Holy Spirit, before deliberations had even begun, that Brown was not guilty of all 24 charged crimes --- was not based on the juror’s evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence.”
Brown, who was convicted last year on 18 felony counts and sentenced to five years in prison, has focused her appeal on the decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to dismiss the juror.
The issue about the religious statements started after the jury had started deliberating in Brown’s case. Another juror, identified as Juror No 8, informed the court that she had concerns about the man because of his statements. Corrigan questioned Juror No. 13 before deciding to replace him with an alternate. The jury subsequently found Brown guilty of the charges.
In a brief filed in March in the Atlanta-based appeals court, Brown’s attorney argued the conviction should be tossed out because of Corrigan’s decision.
“The record in this case supports only one conclusion: that this juror was basing his verdict on his view of the sufficiency of the evidence, after prayerful consideration and as he saw it, in his mind, guidance from the Holy Spirit,” attorney William Mallory Kent, wrote in the brief. “Whether he should or should not have depended on any guidance from the Holy Spirit does not resolve the matter in favor of his dismissal, because the well established law in this and other circuits is that so long as there is any reasonable possibility that the juror is basing his view on the sufficiency of the evidence, he may not be dismissed. Dismissal requires substantial evidence that the juror is engaged in willful misconduct.”
But in the document filed last week urging the appeals court to uphold the conviction, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida said Corrigan correctly determined that Juror No. 13 couldn’t follow jury instructions in deciding the case.
“The record amply supports the court’s findings that Juror No. 13 was not following the court’s instructions, did not understand that he was not following those instructions, and, if left on the jury, would likely continue not to follow those instructions,” prosecutors wrote. “Juror No. 8 was concerned enough about Juror No. 13 that she brought to the district court’s attention his repeated comments that a ‘Higher Being’ had told him that ‘Corrine Brown was Not Guilty on all charges’ and that he
‘trusted the Holy Ghost.’ And she explained that other jurors were concerned too.”
Brown, a former 12-term Democratic congresswoman from Jacksonville, was convicted on fraud and tax charges related to her role in using contributions to the One Door for Education charity for personal expenses and events.
In sentencing Brown in December, Corrigan issued a 25-page order that said the One Door for Education charity, which was originally established to help children, was “operated as a criminal enterprise” by Brown, her longtime chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and the charity's founder, Carla Wiley.
Brown, 71, long an influential figure in Jacksonville, represented a congressional district that stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando. She lost a re-election bid in 2016 after the district's boundaries had been substantially redrawn and as she faced the criminal charges. She is an inmate at the Coleman federal prison in Sumter County, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.