ABERDEEN – Oxford FBI agent Hal Neilson’s family and friends shrieked with joy as his federal jury said “not guilty” twice Saturday afternoon.
Moments later, they gathered in a witness room in a circle of prayer where many of them wept as defense attorney Ronald Michael of Booneville gave thanks for the result of the grueling 10-day trial.
Neilson, 49, and just six weeks away from retirement, faced up to 25 years in prison, a $1.25 million fine and the loss of his pension, if the jury’s decision had gone the other way.
In the end, its 12 members could not agree unanimously on three other counts against him, and U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock declared mistrials.
Prosecutors reportedly have 30 days to decide if they will re-try those counts, but it wasn’t known immediately what they will do.
Neilson was indicted Jan. 13 on five counts that he intentionally lied or substantially participated in acts for his own financial interests related to the Oxford FBI building, where he worked at 2109 University Ave. C&G Properties LLC owns the building, and Neilson became a one-third member in October 2008.
Neilson, an attorney who joined the FBI in 1992, was the defense’ crucial witness, six hours on the stand Wednesday. He insisted he was not part of C&G before the FBI leased the building, that he had permission to do so and that a $50,000 check he received from C&G through another company was not a loan but his own money.
Michael and co-counsel Christi R. McCoy of Oxford said Neilson will not be making any more public comments until after they know the government’s plan for the rest of the case.
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
UPDATE: Jury just announced not guilty on two counts, mistrial on three counts. More soon.
ABERDEEN – Hal Neilson’s jury foreman said about noon that they may be able to decide on one more count, but they are hopelessly deadlocked on the others.
Late Friday, the said they had decided one of five counts and were deadlocked on four others.
Here is what the latest courtroom action looked liked:
ABERDEEN – Attorneys called to the courtroom.
11:49 – Judge Aycock says the jury has a question. (She’s shares question with the attorneys.)
(Aycock apologizes to the courtroom participants that the room is frigid. She says they’ve had a unit malfunction, and that the jury room would be very hot, if the courtroom temp weren’t so low.)
Salomon confers with a new guy from Baton Rouge about the jury question. They look at a statute.
Neilson friend, attorney Duke Goza, explains what he knows to the crowd on that side of the room.
OK, Aycock says. As to the first question, if we agree some charges but deadlocked on others, will the counts we agree on will be retried?
Judge – I think they should not concern themselves about whether other charges will be re-tried. Numerous factors that affect a decision whether to re-try a case or charge. That decision cannot be made today. (This is what she suggests telling them this.)
Michael – I think we could just tell them no.
Judge – They say if we deadlock, will other counts be re-tried. Says she will say no.
Michael – Does that not answer both questions?
Judge – I think both things need to be said. They may be deliberating about the costs involved about re-trying.
Salomon – I’m reading Allen charge commentary. (This is about the instruction she gave them Friday about thinking about the other side’s opinions to re-focus on the charges they haven’t agreed on.) Says 5th Circuit essentially approved, that if you fail to agree on rest of counts, the case is basically left open to those counts.
We’re happy with your proposal, satisfactory to the United States.
Judge – Here’s what – I’m going to call them in. Will answer their two questions. Then I’m going to have a dialogue with this jury. We’ll work through lunch, if they think they an work through ones they think they can have movement on.
(Bailiff goes and gets jury.)
Judge – Good morning. Thank you for your service. About two issues:
You asked if we agree on some, deadlocked on others. Will agreed counts be re-tried.
Judge – You should not concern yourself with this. (See above)
Then you asked, if we deadlock on one, will others we’ve reached a verdict on be nullified?
Judge – Consider that each is separate. I will accept your decision on each one which you agreed to unanimously.
Based on your notes, looks like you’ve agreed on some. Put those aside. You’re still deliberating on some others. It’s noon, and you have all the time you need. But I want to inquire with respect only to those undecided – do you think you are so deadlocked that won’t reach agreement, or now, with instructions, might be able to address those with a determination?
Mr. Lambert – we may be able to reach verdict on one, but believe we are permanently deadlocked on the rest of them.
Judge – We’ll bring lunch in for you to continue to work. I want you to go back, re-focus. Remember your instructions, re-examine your views. After lunch, at some point, I will inquire – have you done all you can, thought about it all you can? Or at a point that you can’t reach a decision? Don’t be affected by being here on a Saturday. Time is not an issue. My inquiry is not for our sake, but as 12 people, either you can or cannot do this.
Mr. Foreman, have I answered your questions?
Lambert – I believe you have.
12:05 p.m. – Judge – do not concern yourself with the ones that will have to be re-tried. If you think you can’t make a determination, let me know.
UPDATE: ABERDEEN – Jurors resumed deliberations at 9 a.m. today on five federal counts against FBI agent Hal Neilson of Oxford.
They’ve had the case since 4 p.m. Thursday.
Watch NEMS360.com today for updates.
Neilson jurors try again today
ABERDEEN – FBI agent Hal Neilson’s jury, which says it’s “permanently deadlocked” on four of five counts, will return today to deliberate his fate.
Neilson, 49, of Oxford went on trial Nov. 8 in U.S. District Court, accused of intentionally lying and filing false financial reports about his interests in the Oxford FBI Building.
Late Friday, after all-day deliberations, the 12-member jury asked to go home and work today. It got the case to consider at 4 p.m. Thursday.
From outside appearances, Friday morning’s jury work seemed routine but at 2 p.m., the jury told Judge Sharion Aycock it had a question – what is the definition of “substantial?”
Counts 1 and 2 accuse Neilson of “substantial” participation in recommending that the FBI lease additional space at the 2109 University Ave. building and in the evaluation, preparation and resolution of a construction “punch list” on the building.
Aycock and attorneys for both sides agreed she would tell them they should use their life experience and common sense to decide for themselves.
Jurors also told the judge they had decided one count but was deadlocked on the other four.
They asked if they must decide on all five counts, and Aycock advised them to treat each charge separately. Their decisions must be unanimous.
About 3:15 p.m., the judge told attorneys that the jury said it was “permanently deadlocked” on the four counts.
She brought jurors into the courtroom and encouraged them to re-focus on the issues, saying she had “no reason to believe that the case could go to 12 men and women more competent than you are.”
Then, the trial took an unusual twist at 4:15, when Aycock said she was inclined to excuse one of the jurors, who had plane tickets to see her grandchildren in Colorado over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I’ve just never been here before,” Aycock said to the attorneys, “and I open it up to you about how to proceed.”
While defense attorney Ron Michael said he feared that “the dynamics in place can change” with her departure, he suggested she be allowed to make that decision outside the rest of her fellow jurors. Prosecutor Rene Salomon agreed.
Forty minutes later, the judge announced that the juror wanted to stay to continue with deliberations, but that the jury wanted to go home for the night.
Throughout Friday, Neilson’s wife, her parents and a dozen or so friends held vigil in the courthouse and attended the courtroom sessions as they were announced.
If convicted on all counts, Neilson faces up to 25 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. He also would lose his federal pension for his 21-year service.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch trial updates on NEMS360.com.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal