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Some jurors believed Wesley Snipes guilty before trial began, attorney says

OCALA — An attorney for Wesley Snipes urged a federal judge Monday to conduct an inquiry of jurors who convicted the actor of tax crimes, alleging that some of them believed he was guilty before his trial began.

"One dishonest juror (or) one dishonest witness frustrates the system," Daniel Meachum told U.S. District Court Judge William Terrell Hodges. "It makes a mockery of all that you do and all that we do when a juror does this."

If Snipes hopes to avoid prison, his attorneys will have to persuade Hodges to grant a new trial either on grounds of jury misconduct or "tainted" testimony given by Kenneth Starr, the actor's former investment adviser.

Snipes, 48, who portrayed a wrongly accused fugitive in the drama U.S. Marshals, was convicted in 2008 of willfully failing to file federal tax returns, but contends the jury verdicts and trial in Ocala were unjust.

This summer, a federal appeals court disagreed.

But Meachum, an Atlanta lawyer who heads Snipes' defense team, presented the judge with two unsolicited e-mails he received from jurors, each claiming that three other members of the jury panel revealed during deliberations that they were convinced of the actor's guilt before the first witness testified.

Snipes, a martial-arts expert who is best known as the vampire-killing title character in the Blade trilogy, did not appear at the hearing, which could decide if and how soon he must report to the Bureau of Prisons. Free on bail since his conviction, Snipes faces a 36-month sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Barksdale argued that Snipes' latest issues are weak. She said federal trial rules discourage courts from prying into jury deliberations without compelling evidence of misconduct. She said the rule is meant to protect jurors from second-guessers.

Barksdale also dismissed Meachum's arguments assailing the testimony of Starr, who pleaded guilty to bank and wire fraud in September for swindling millions from celebrity clients.

Meachum suggested that prosecutors hid an ongoing investigation of Starr from the defense because it would have damaged Starr's credibility and weakened their case against Snipes.

But Barksdale said prosecutors in Snipes' case were unaware that Starr was under investigation when he testified in Ocala and, nonetheless, his testimony against Snipes was substantiated by documents and other witnesses.

Starr ended his professional relationship with Snipes after warning him that he would be making a serious mistake if he followed the advice of Eddie Ray Kahn, a Lake County man who sold illegal, tax-dodging schemes.

Kahn, who was sentenced to 10 years as a co-defendant in Snipes' case, told the actor he had no legal obligation to pay federal income tax. He ran the now-defunct American Rights Litigators from offices in Mount Dora.

Some jurors believed Wesley Snipes guilty before trial began, attorney says 11/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 9:58pm]
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