DALLAS – It’s only the first week of testimony in the massive John Wiley Price bribery trial, and already the alternate juror pool is half depleted.
Today at midday, Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn had to excuse a second juror – a Hispanic man – in two weeks because if an unspecified illness.
Last week, as opening arguments were set to begin and only a day after the panel was picked, Judge Lynn had to cut an African American woman loose also for health reasons.
Both those jurors were replaced with alternates, and that leaves Judge Lynn with two left -- for a marathon four-month trial.
Price, 66, one of North Texas’ most high profile and powerful politicians, is accused of taking more than $1 million in bribes in exchange for selling his vote on the Dallas County commissioner’s court. His top assistant, Dapheny Fain, 55, of DeSoto, is on trial as well, charged with helping him hide his alleged ill-gotten gains.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
The trial began last week with jury selection. A panel of 16 was chosen, including four alternates. Now, it is down to 14 (12 regular jurors and two alternates), including four African Americans, one Hispanic, eight whites and one person of unknown ethnicity.
Keeping a jury health is a concern during long trials – this one is scheduled to last through June – and Judge Lynn has expressed concern in passing days from the bench about keeping the trial on schedule. Trial courts are in large part at the mercy of jurors, who must navigate traffic, family emergencies and other daily life struggles to make sure they make it to court. If even one juror cannot attend on any given day, court is either canceled or that juror is replaced. And with only two alternates remaining it’s difficult to envision the judge excusing any other jurors without very good reason.
If three more jurors are excused, meaning the two remaining alternates are used and a third regular juror has to be excused between now and the end of the trial, the panel drops to 11. That may force Judge Lynn to declare a mistrial.
If that happens, prosecutors will have to decide whether to try Price and Fain again.
The trial is schedule to continue a full day Thursday and a half day Friday, ending at lunch that day.