The conviction of former Florida congresswoman Corrine Brown, charged with running a fraudulent charity, was overturned by a federal appeals court on Thursday, The New York Times reported.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District in Atlanta granted Brown, 74, a new trial in a 7-4 decision. She was convicted in 2017 on 18 counts of allegedly running a scam organization, taking $300,000 for her personal use in what prosecutors said was a lavish lifestyle.
Prosecutors stated that she told donors to the charity, One Door for Education, that the money would go toward helping students pay for college, but only one student got a $1,000 scholarship, according to Jacksonville, Fla., station WJXT.
The conviction upended her political career, which stretches back to 1992 when she was elected to the House of Representatives, one of the first Black people elected to Congress from Florida. But in 2016, while under indictment, she lost in the primary to Rep. Al Lawson, who went on to win the election that year and still holds the congressional seat.
She served two years of a five-year sentence before she was granted a release on bond in 2020 as she waited for a decision on her appeal.
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But a majority of the judges in the appeal found that the judge in the original case should not have dismissed one of the jurors for a statement in which he said to fellow jurors the Holy Spirit told him that she was not guilty. Another juror told the trial Judge Timothy Corrigan about the remark and he replaced him with an alternate during deliberations.
In the majority opinion, 11th District Chief Appellate Judge William Pryor wrote that the case’s record shows that the juror, known as “Juror No. 13” was not derelict in his duty to fairly deliberate the case based on the evidence presented and that removing him and replacing him with an alternate deprived her of her rights to a unanimous jury verdict.
“Jurors may pray for and believe they have received divine guidance as they determine another person’s innocence or guilt, a profound civic duty but a daunting task to say the least,” Pryor wrote. “The district judge was wrong to conclude that Juror No. 13′s statements that he received guidance in response to prayers were categorically ‘a bridge too far.’ ”
However, in a dissenting opinion, Judge Charles Wilson said the district judges should have determined the juror’s ability to deliberate.
“The decision to remove Juror No. 13 was a tough call, and one the district court did not take lightly. But from the district court’s superior vantage point, it was necessary to ensure that a verdict was rendered based on the law and evidence -- a principle that is foundational to our system of justice,” Wilson wrote.
William Mallory Kent, Brown's lawyer, told the Times in an email that he was unsure if prosecutors will decide to retry her, but if they do, it's not likely to be soon.
“Congresswoman Brown is very pleased with the court’s decision,” Kent said.