|Friday, October 31, 2003
Jury unable to reach decision
|The judge in the trial against Cecil Byron Knox has urged the jury to reach an agreement.
By Jen McCaffery
The federal jury in the case against Roanoke pain specialist Cecil Byron Knox, his practice and two of his associates told the judge Thursday they could not reach a unanimous decision on all charges and the judge sent them back to deliberate further.
After about four and a half days of deliberation, the jury foreperson wrote in a note to Chief U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson that "given the detail and thoroughness of our deliberation, we believe it is not possible to come to unanimous decisions on all counts."
In essence, the note revealed that the jurors had reached an agreement on most of the drug charges in the case, but not on the racketeering, fraud or most conspiracy charges. The jurors also agreed on many of the charges Knox faced in connection with the question of whether he prescribed narcotics outside the scope of legitimate medical practice.
But the note gave no indication of what the jury decided about innocence or guilt in the charges they did agree on.
The note also said that the jurors had reached an agreement on all of the counts concerning prescription of medication outside the scope of legitimate medical practice that Knox's office manager, Beverly Gale Boone, faced. The note did not say whether the jury agreed that Boone was guilty or not guilty.
Boone and Knox each face a drug conspiracy charge, 17 charges that the distribution of narcotics outside the scope of legitimate medical practice led to the death or serious bodily injury of a patient, and 34 counts of distribution of narcotics outside the scope of legitimate medical practice.
The jury also indicated it had only reached a decision about the guilt or innocence of Knox's practice, Southwest Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, on the drug conspiracy charge. The practice also faces racketeering, conspiracy and fraud charges.
But the jurors could not agree on the racketeering, fraud and additional conspiracy charges, the note indicated. As it stands, the jury has not decided whether to convict licensed professional counselor Willard Newbill James on any of the five charges - conspiracy to commit health care fraud and two counts each of mail fraud and health care fraud.
As is typical when it looks like there could be a hung jury on certain counts in the case, defense attorneys in the case asked the judge to dismiss those charges. Wilson denied the request.
Then, as is typical when juries say they cannot reach a unanimous decision, Wilson asked the jurors to re-examine their views on the counts they disagreed on.
But he added that "none of you should surrender a conscientious view at any time."
Each count is considered separately, said Roanoke attorney David Damico. So even if the jury cannot reach an agreement on some of the charges in the case, it does not cancel out the decisions they reached on other counts, Damico said.
Defense attorneys in the case said they were "cautiously optimistic" about the jury's note.
"This could be anything from six to six, 11 to 1," Damico said. "Nobody has any information at all."
Prosecutors in the case left without commenting.
The judge also said he planned to deny today a request from the jurors that they be allowed to bring a tape player and a laptop computer with a compact disc player into the deliberation room. The jurors looked somewhat worn after their deliberations and left the courthouse Thursday, as they do most days, about 5 p.m. They will return today.