Inside the Jury Box

The people who judged Symington look back with certainty, compassion

The jury began relying heavily on two large books that had been used by the Symington Company--one contained loan documents and the other details of Symington's numerous partnership agreements.

Once deliberations began, juror Bob Bamond, a computer programmer for the Peoria School District, was in charge of finding information in the loan and partnership books, a task that proved exceedingly easy. Bamond was quickly able to find detailed information on any Symington loan or partnership the jury discussed.

"He could take this book cold, and flip it open and find . . . a date, an interest, a loan amount, the whole works, in 20 or 30 seconds," Carlson says.

The ease with which crucial data could be found led many jurors to doubt that Symington was too busy to properly prepare his financial statements, Carlson says.

"To me, this said, if you got this at your hands there and you got people working for you who can look this up, you got it in your file cabinet, why would you have the wrong loan amount?

"It was so quick and easy. If we as strangers to your information can find it, why couldn't you find your own information? To me, that was making a pattern."

Some jurors, however, were still not convinced; they believed Symington was simply repeating old errors on subsequent statements.

Carlson says he argued this was a far-fetched excuse.
"An intelligent, accomplished man of this caliber doesn't make stupid errors like that," he says. "If they do, they catch it. They didn't get to this level of accomplishment by being a doofus."

In the end, the jury did look at the big picture--Symington's financial statements in their entirety. The $9.5 million difference on two different December 31, 1990, financial statements proved too much for anyone to ignore.

Six of the seven counts the jury found Symington guilty of occurred on or after he submitted the two wildly conflicting statements on May 14, 1991. And, jurors say, those statements helped convince the jury that Symington submitted a different false financial statement to a group of union pension funds for a $10 million loan for the Mercado in June 1990.

"I wanted to believe in the guy," says Bamond, who claims he would vote for Symington again. "I liked him. I still like him a lot. But when it came down to the hard evidence, the proof was there to convict him on those counts."

Janice Pettes: Rectitude and empathy
Janice Pettes came away from her service as a juror in the trial of J. Fife Symington III with strong opinions.

She says a man who telephoned a death threat to her during deliberations sounded like Symington's attorney, John Dowd.

She says Symington's five-witness defense presentation was "a joke."
She didn't "buy into" Symington's bizarre explanation of how he used "hoped for" future values in determining the worth of real estate on his financial statements.

Pettes is absolutely convinced Symington is guilty of seven counts of bank and wire fraud. She appears to have every reason to believe Symington is a dishonest man who should be subjected to a stiff punishment. But Pettes sees no reason for the former governor to spend a minute behind bars, and holds Symington in high esteem.

The stark dichotomy between her guilty verdicts and praise for the former governor appears to have played a crucial role in reducing the number of guilty verdicts the jury returned, which, in turn, could help Symington avoid a prison term.

Such a scenario would be just fine with Pettes, a 32-year-old managed-health-care analyst who also has a real estate license.

"I have no regrets on any of the verdicts, but I just don't see what good prison time would do," says Pettes.

Probation and community service would be a far better alternative, she explains.

"I think only hardened criminals should be in a prison, the people who are a threat to our society. The people who are out there killing and raping and hurting people," says Pettes, who describes her politics as straight-ticket Republican.

Besides, she says, it's expensive to house prisoners.
"Why should we pay our tax dollars to keep Fife Symington in prison when he's a smart man and could be valuable to the community?" Pettes asks.

Pettes feels compassion for Symington.
"I even saw him cry one day," Pettes says, recalling testimony about Symington's late mother and her feelings toward her only son.

"I almost started crying. I really felt bad for the guy at that point. Here he was. All this stuff had been brought out. He had to sit there day after day after day and listen to people say bad things about him. And I don't have any vendetta against Fife Symington."

Which are the emotions Symington's defense attorneys hoped they could evoke. While sympathy might not have been enough to win acquittal, it could reduce the number of guilty counts and lessen possible jail time, fines and restitution.

Pettes and several of her fellow jurors were not convinced Symington was submitting false financial statements to lenders between 1986 and 1989--even though Symington repeatedly submitted different financial statements riddled with inaccuracies to different lenders during the same year. The jury was hung on six counts of filing false financial statements during this period.

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