Jurors in the trial of eight Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists accused of trying to murder George Roden, who has testified he is the messiah, took the weekend off after reaching a deadlock Friday.
The seven men and five women on the jury told Judge Herman Fitts of Mineral Wells that they were split, 9-3, after six votes. Fitts asked them not to divulge if they were leaning to conviction or acquittal.
The judge called the jurors, who had deliberated for more than two hours Thursday and eight hours Friday, back to the courtroom just before 6 p.m. and asked if they could reach a verdict if deliberations continued.
None of the jurors raised a hand.
“There’s been quite a bit of time spent by everybody on this case,” Fitts told jurors. “I hate to ask you to come back, but, also, if there’s the possibility of reaching a verdict, I hate to release you. Does anyone object seriously to coming back Monday morning?”
“How seriously?” asked a woman juror.
Fitts then asked jurors about a note they sent him asking for the testimony of defendant Vernon Howell, 28, in regard to whether he shot at Roden before Roden hid behind a tree, where McLennan County Sheriff’s Department deputies found him on Nov. 3, 19987.
“Raise your hand if you think there’s a possibility of reaching a verdict if you get that information,” Fitts said.
The jurors raised and lowered their hands in an instant.
“You can count on me,” said the juror who did not raise his hand.
“That makes it unanimous,” Fitts said.
He gave the jurors the weekend off because the court reporter who recorded Howell’s testimony had gone and would not be available until Monday. Jurors will report at 9 a.m. Monday and resume deliberations in the nine-day-old trial.
Prosecutor Denise Wilkerson said she did not know how to read the jury’s request for the testimony of Howell, the president of the Branch Davidians believed by many of them to be a prophet.
“With something like this, there’s no way to tell what’s going through the jury’s mind,” she said.
At 10:50 a.m. Friday, jurors asked Fitts for Roden’s testimony as to whether he or someone else fired the first shots in the shootout. Fitts, a visiting judge, told jurors a transcript of the testimony would not be ready until 3:30 p.m. because a scheduling conflict forced the court reporter to be absent much of the day.
Defendant Floyd Houtman found the jury’s request troubling.
“Are they going to go by George’s testimony?” he asked fellow Branch Davidians. “That will be rugged.”
Jurors, who broke only for lunch, chose to continue deliberations until Roden’s testimony was transcribed.
Defendants in the case claim their shootout with Roden occurred after they went to the 77 acres — which they and Roden both claim — near Elk to photograph a corpse Roden admits trying three times to resurrect. The defendants said the sheriff’s department led them to believe a photograph of the corpse was needed to file a corpse abuse charge against Roden.
Wilkerson, in her closing argument, however, said the Branch Davidians believed the sheriff’s department would not help them and decided to provoke Roden and kill him, so they could return to their homes.
Roden claimed the property in 1984 and drove most of the Branch Davidians off. When Roden was given a six-month recently for writing legal motions threatening to have God inflict herpes and acquired immune deficiency syndrome on judges, the Branch Davidians reclaimed the property, changing its name from Rodenville to Mount Carmel Center, its original name.
A 1979 injunction filed by State District Judge Bill Logue ordered Roden not to sell the property or take possession of it.
At about 3 p.m. Friday, jurors finally got to hear Roden’s testimony read by the court reporter.
In it, Coker asked Roden if he shot at defendant Stan Sylvia first.
“I asked him who he was and what he was doing there and what he wanted,” Roden said in the transcript. “He started shooting at me, so I ran for cover.”
“You never did shoot at him?” Coker asked.
“Well, I don’t know if I did or not,” Roden said. “I shot to keep them under cover. I didn’t shoot at them to kill them.”