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Jury heads home for night in JT Burnette trial

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 11:20 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the jury has headed home for the evening in the JT Burnette trail.

They will return and resume deliberation on Friday at 9 a.m.

Around 11:30 on Thursday, attorneys were called back in the courtroom to discuss Judge Hinkle’s answers to a few jury questions.

That discussion lasted about half an hour.

The jury’s first question was whether a public official not being at the dais is considered abstaining from a vote.

The answer they decided on: “Abstaining can be an official act. This is so whether abstaining is carried out by leaving the dais or in some other way.”

There was a good bit of back and forth about this question.

Defense attorney Tim Jansen said Scott Maddox testified that he may have left the dais to go to the bathroom, which had nothing to do with the vote on the table.

The Judge responded that while he may not have left related to an agreement, that deals with the agreement element, not the definition of an official act.

Jansen and Kehoe argued Judge Hinkle should not answer the question and point the jury back to original instructions.

Jansen’s reference to Maddox’s leaving the dais calls back to Maddox’s testimony about an April 2013 City Commission issue. Maddox said on the stand he “doesn’t really remember,” why he left the dais, but the records show he was indeed out of the room during that vote.

The jury’s second question was what “willfully joining” means in a conspiracy. The Judge directed them back to the definition.

The jury’s third question dealt with Count 1, Part 5; the requirement for this count is that the conspiracy needed to continue to occur after May 9, 2014.

Hinkle told the jury it does not matter when the conspiracy began; they must find that it was still in existence after that date.

The prosecution’s McKibbon case argues Burnette approached Maddox to bribe him sometime before September 2013, and paid the bribe in April 2014. The FBI part of the case surrounds the four checks; the first one was sent in November 2016.

The fourth and final question from the jury this morning was whether the Old Skool 11/11/16 conversation between Scott Maddox and Mike Sweet constituted a contract for lobbying.

Judge Hinkle responded: “what matters is what the parties understood, not what the law requires.”

The answers were sent to the jury just after noon.

A jury is now deliberating in the racketeering and extortion trial of Tallahassee businessman JT Burnette.

Jurors started deliberating Wednesday afternoon at 4:30, but met only briefly before heading home.

The jury returned to the federal courthouse Thursday morning to deliberate after 14 days of testimony in the corruption case.

JT Burnette is accused of racketeering, bribery, extortion, fraud and making false statements.

Burnette is accused of scheming with former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and associate Paige Carter-Smith, who both have already plead guilty and testified against him at trial.

Federal prosecutors accuse Burnette of paying Maddox $100,000 to effectively kill a rival hotel plan and facilitating $40,000 in bribes for an FBI front company seeking the city’s approval on a development deal.

Burnette took the stand this week and testified in his own defense, claiming he was strong-armed by Maddox and was trying to appease the undercover FBI agents to try to bring investment to Tallahassee.

The trial has lasted more than a month. Testimony in the case started July 9, but was delayed twice: once when a juror was exposed to COVID and again when a juror tested positive for COVID.

WCTV’s Monica Casey has been covering the trial and is at the federal courthouse awaiting a verdict.

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