A juror describes their dramatic shift, and what tipped the scales

TAMPA — The first vote was 10, 1, 1.

Ten jurors thought Youssef Megahed was guilty. One was undecided.

And John Calder believed he was innocent. He was so sure of it, he blurted out something that had the defense talking mistrial.

A first time juror, Calder, 61, spent 20 years in the Air Force and another 20 years as a U.S. Postal Service mail handler before lung cancer forced him to retire. His daughter is married to a Moroccan Muslim.

The all-white jury with five men and seven women was on its way to a guilty verdict. Then the blackboards came out.

"We had to prove it to reasonable doubt and we checked everything down to the last fuse, I should say," Calder said, "and we all felt he knew a little bit but he was a gullible kid with a friend who pretty much confessed that all the stuff that was bought was his."

They weren't impressed with the prosecutors claims the devices were dangerous.

"They were more of a rocket, a kind of rocket," Calder said. "I guess that was (Ahmed) Mohamed's hobby."

At one point in the jury room, Calder let it slip that Mohamed had been sentenced to 15 years.

"Okay, that's it," Calder recalled the foreman saying as he stopped deliberations and wrote the judge a note.

"What for?" Calder asked. "What did I say?"

"That has nothing to do with the case," the foreman told him.

Defense attorneys moved for a mistrial but later backed off after they found out that Calder had learned about the sentence before jury duty.

Jurors were told to ignore the inadmissible comment.

What turned the vote around?

Megahed hadn't bought the ingredients and pipes that authorities claimed were explosives. Mohamed did.

Even that still left the jury split.

Then on Friday, the judge said it wasn't enough that Megahed knew about a crime. He had to participate to be guilty.

"In the last three hours — it was about 4:15 p.m. this afternoon — we got the other two to come around," Calder said. "We convinced them."

A juror describes their dramatic shift, and what tipped the scales 04/03/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 9:03am]

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