Viktor Bout Jury Forewoman Saw "Lord of War"

The New York Times had an interview with the jury forewoman in the Viktor Bout trial earlier this week. Viktor Bout's wife, Alla Bout, who attended all of the trial except for the verdict return, has told a Russian newspaper that Bout's lawyers will challenge the verdict based on the interview. The article says "over the last few weeks" she has become something of an expert on Viktor Bout. It also says:

Another thing also became obvious: her knowledge of Mr. Bout was more expansive than she had realized. I had seen that terrible Nicolas Cage movie,” she said, a reference to the film “Lord of War,” which is believed to have been inspired by Mr. Bout, “and I had no idea it was about this guy.”

I wonder when exactly she realized this. Was it while the trial was going on or after the verdict was rendered? From the "past few weeks" reference, it could have been either. [More...]

In federal court, it is customary for the judge, rather than the lawyers, to voir dire the jury. If the lawyers request to personally question the jurors, some judges will allow them a few minutes to do so.

In Viktor Bout's trial, both sides presented written voir dire questions they wanted the Judge to ask the jurors. (I don't know if they personally quizzed the jurors as well.) Viktor Bout's counsel submitted two questions regarding media (Document #60, filed 09/02/11), one of which asked if the potential jurors had seen any film that "discussed or portrayed Viktor Bout in any fashion."

The transcript of the questions actually posed by the judge is not publicly available on PACER, so it's possible the judge never asked those exact questions. But surely in a high-profile case such as this, the judge would have asked them about their media exposure to Viktor Bout and the case.

The forewoman makes it clear she didn't realize the film she saw was about Bout at the time of jury selection or when the trial began.

But, if she realized it during the "past few weeks", that is, before the jury began deliberating, how did she learn this? The jurors signed an oath not to do internet research or follow social media on the case. It's an instruction in every federal case that jurors not discuss the case with each other before they retire to deliberate.

My guess is either (1) someone told her after the trial and the reference to "the last few weeks" was the reporter's mis-combination of two issues into one time frame (her becoming an expert on Bout and her realization about the film), or (2) a light bulb went off in her head while she was hearing testimony and she realized the film she had seen was about Bout.

If it was during the trial that she connected the film to Bout, what obligation, if any, did she have to report it to the judge? Seems to me she should have reported it immediately, and especially given her negative reaction to the "awful" film, been replaced by an alternate juror.

The other thing that struck me from the juror's interview was this:

Upon hearing the verdict, Mr. Bout maintained the “deadpan” expression and “very intense, furious” eyes that Ms. Hobson said he had shown throughout the trial — a visage that Ms. Hobson believed corroborated the evidence of his dangerous past and deadly intentions.

I doubt there was a jury instruction that allowed for a "deadpan" facial expression and "furious eyes" at trial to be considered corroborating evidence of a defendant's "deadly intentions" with respect to the charged criminal activity.

Viktor Bout's intent was the primary issue the trial. The Government argued his intent in dealing with the pretend FARC members was to sell arms. The defense argued Bout's intention was to string them along while they talked arms so he could sell them two airplanes. A defendant's facial expressions are not corroborative evidence of guilt.

In related news, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich says Moscow will seek to have Bout returned to Russia because his extradition and the trial were unfair.

"Our goal is to achieve his return to the motherland," the foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

Lukashevich accused US authorities of illegally extraditing Bout from Thailand following his arrest during a US sting operation in Bangkok in 2008 and of "purposefully creating a negative environment that prevented the objective consideration of facts" during the trial. He said that Bout, a Russian citizen, had been held in "unnecessarily harsh conditions".

Just a day earlier, Russia's vice-counsel in New York said Russia wouldn't take a position on the verdict:

Russia’s vice consul in New York, Alexander Otchaynov, expressed concern about the “severe conditions” of Bout’s confinement and said the government would continue to provide assistance to his family. But he declined to comment on the substance of the verdict, saying, “There is no official position as to whether it was fair or not.”

I'm not so sure Russia is genuine in its stated intention to help Bout. Since the U.S. considers him a trophy, I doubt it will agree to send him back to Russia. His best chance is with the appeals court. But given the Second Circuit's past endorsement of similar DEA stings and extraditions, and rejection of claims of manufactured jurisdiction, it's going to be a very tough road for him.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Isn't it normal for jurors to make (none / 0) (#1)
    by observed on Sun Nov 06, 2011 at 07:23:25 PM EST
    judgments based on personal observations of the defendant?  For instance, jurors may have an opinion about whether the defendant lied, based on body language.
    Could the quote about the movie really be grounds for an appeal?