TAMPA — The jury in the Youssef Megahed explosives trial was forced to pause in its deliberations after a juror said something he shouldn't have on Thursday.
It pushed the defense to call for a mistrial. A compromise cleared things up. By the end of the day, after almost 16 hours over three days, they still hadn't reached a verdict.
Just a half hour into their morning, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday ordered a halt after the jury foreman told him a juror had told the panel that Ahmed Mohamed, the fellow University of South Florida student arrested with Megahed, had received a 15-year sentence.
Mohamed pleaded guilty in December. Mention of his case was excluded in the trial of Megahed, who was accused of the illegal transport of explosive materials and a destructive device.
"Based on that statement, the jury has now been exposed to information detrimental to Mr. Megahed, and we would move for a mistrial," Assistant Federal Public Defender Dionja Dyer said.
The judge asked whether she had thought about it carefully or was just putting it into the court record. He made her reconsider since many jurors admitted during pre-trial questioning that they had prior knowledge of Mohamed's case.
Before Megahed and his attorneys could seriously debate their request, the judge called the jury foreman in to investigate.
He asked him which juror made the statement and then called that man in. The judge asked him when he learned of Mohamed's sentencing. If he had learned after the jury was sequestered, that would have been a problem.
"Before the case, sir,'' said the juror. "I'd say a year ago.''
The judge sent him back.
Merryday told attorneys he leaned toward telling the jury to disregard the comment.
Public defender Adam Allen wanted the judge to ask the juror if he could consider Megahed's case on its own merits.
"He's already told me he can do that," Merryday said, referring to pre-trial questioning.
Federal prosecutor Robert Monk said he didn't want jurors feeling as if they were being cross-examined.
The judge decided to respond in writing, reminding the jury to stick to the facts of the case.
The defense withdrew its motion, and the jury went back to deliberations after an hour.
They made one other request later: 10 copies of jury instructions and a judge's clarification.