Try again

November 30, 2007

When it comes to criminal trials, there's no telling what juries will do. They frequently have minds of their own, despite the evidence. That would appear to be the case in the mistrial of former Prince George's County school Superintendent Andre J. Hornsby as jurors deadlocked on a number of corruption charges against him. Federal prosecutors have rightly pledged to retry him. He has irrevocably broken the public's trust, whether or not he is found guilty in court.

Mr. Hornsby took over the Prince George's schools in 2003, amid hopes that he would help improve the prospects of the generally second-lowest-performing district in the state, behind Baltimore. Instead, he soon became caught up in a Sun investigation of possible ethical lapses in his dealings with an educational supplies company that received an expensive contract with the school system through a saleswoman with whom Mr. Hornsby was personally involved.

Halfway through his four-year contract, he resigned his position, months after an FBI investigation had been launched and days before an internal audit - that had been belatedly commissioned by the county school board - was sharply critical of his activities.

In August 2006, Mr. Hornsby's alleged efforts to help arrange lucrative contracts, share in the proceeds and order other employees to destroy evidence of the alleged scheme were spelled out in a federal indictment that charged him with mail and wire fraud, witness and evidence tampering and obstruction of justice.

But evidence presented at the trial that ended this week - including a surveillance tape of Mr. Hornsby taking money from a former-colleague-turned-FBI informant and stuffing it into his pocket as well as testimony by the saleswoman who appeared as a prosecution witness - was apparently not sufficient to convince some jurors that he was guilty of even one charge. Other jurors, however, said they had voted him guilty.

That should give disappointed prosecutors incentive to try again. As they pointed out during the trial, Mr. Hornsby also may have engaged in some questionable practices in at least one previous administrative position. Whatever happens in court, he has proved himself unworthy of being entrusted with the fate of schoolchildren.

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