Hornsby jury tells judge it is split

Panel ends fourth day of deliberations in corruption trial without a verdict

November 21, 2007|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

GREENBELT -- A federal jury ended its fourth day of deliberations yesterday in the corruption trial of a former Prince George's County school superintendent without reaching a verdict and was ordered by a judge to return Monday to try again.

The jury hearing the case against Andre J. Hornsby, accused of awarding large school contracts to his lover and a business associate in exchange for kickbacks, had sent a note to U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in midafternoon stating it was having trouble arriving at a verdict.

The note read: "The jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Jurors are firm in their vote. Please advise." Jurors also said they needed a definition of what constitutes "reasonable doubt."

Messitte discussed the note with prosecutors and Hornsby's defense lawyer, Robert C. Bonsib, outside the presence of jurors. The judge said he was not prepared to define reasonable doubt for jurors, noting that appellate courts in the federal system have discouraged it.

After calling jurors into the courtroom, Messitte told them, "There will be no further guidance as to the meaning of reasonable doubt." He advised jurors to continue their deliberations and "do the best you can" to reach a unanimous verdict.

"Have a nice holiday and come back on Monday and keep trying," the judge said, dismissing the jury shortly after 4 p.m.

Hornsby is charged in a 16-count indictment of conspiring to steer lucrative contracts to his then-girlfriend, who worked at an educational supplies company, and a business associate in exchange for kickbacks. He is also accused of ordering school system employees to destroy evidence after federal authorities launched an investigation, prompted in part by articles in The Sun that raised questions about Hornsby's business dealings with his then-girlfriend.

Bonsib disputed the allegations of corruption during the four-week trial and said that, at most, his client is guilty of sloppy recordkeeping.

Jurors were shown a surveillance tape of Hornsby stuffing $1,000 into his shirt pocket from his former business associate, who had become an FBI informant. They also heard testimony from his ex-girlfriend, Sienna Owens, a saleswoman for LeapFrog SchoolHouse.

Owens testified that she put $10,000 on their bed, which was his cut of her commission on a $1 million contract with the school system, and he put it in his closet. But Bonsib, in closing arguments, said Owens lacked credibility and had lied to a grand jury investigating the case in 2005.

The charges against Hornsby, who resigned as school superintendent of Prince George's in 2005, include mail and wire fraud, evidence tampering, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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