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Juror gets 90 days in jail for perjury

June 15, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

A juror who tried to help a defendant escape punishment in a 1998 theft case was jailed for 90 days Thursday for perjury.

Shelley Dawn Robertson of Hagerstown pleaded guilty to one count of perjury, a crime rarely seen in local courts, which carries a possible 10-year sentence.

Washington County Circuit Judge Donald Beachley initially imposed a two-year prison term but suspended all but 90 days in the Washington County Detention Center.

"You've got to go to jail ... it's warranted so prospective jurors will know they must tell the truth or instead of being jurors, they will be inmates," Beachley said.

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Tearful from the beginning of Thursday's hearing, Robertson, 23, of 16612A Spiceberry Court, admitted her actions in July 1998 were stupid.

"I'd just like to put it all behind me," Robertson said.

According to Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum, Robertson was among the prospective jurors summoned to appear in Washington County Circuit Court July 2, 1998 to hear a theft case against James E. Ruth III.

When prospective jurors were asked if any of them knew the defendant, Robertson did not disclose that she had known Ruth for years and she had spoken with him the night before the trial about her plans to "get him off," according to Lauchbaum.

Robertson was chosen for the jury and held out for acquittal on all charges except conspiracy, which was the only finding of guilt made by the jury, court records said.

Ruth was sentenced to 15 years in prison on that conspiracy conviction.

"Ruth's father sent a letter to Judge John McDowell and told him Robertson would acquit," Lochbaum said.

At a new trial hearing prompted by those revelations, James Ruth's attorney, Greg Hannigan, testified that he was unaware of the situation until near the end of the trial, according to court records.

Hannigan testified his client told him not to worry about the outcome of the trial because he was "in with one of the jurors," according to court records.

After speaking with Robertson, Hannigan immediately withdrew as James Ruth's attorney, according to court records.

In September 1999, James Ruth appealed his conviction to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, seeking a reversal on a number of issues, including improper conduct by a juror.

"The term 'invited error' is a concept that the defendant who himself invites or creates error cannot obtain a benefit such as a mistrial or reversal from that error," the higher court ruled June 1.

"Your actions go to the very heart of the criminal justice system," Beachley said Thursday. "We expect people to speak the truth jurors are critical to maintaining the integrity of our criminal justice system."

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