Inside the Jury Box

The people who judged Symington look back with certainty, compassion

"I gave him the benefit of the doubt because some of the discrepancies [on financial statements] worked against him," Pettes says.

Some of the mistakes on the financial statements reduced, rather than increased, the overall value of his real estate holdings by as much as $2 million, Pettes says.

"I didn't think it was a big scheme back in 1986 when they [prosecutors] started presenting the financial statements," she says. Symington, Pettes says, appeared to her to be careless in preparing his statements, a theme the defense readily admitted during the trial.

Pettes was one of a minority of jurors who refused to believe Symington was guilty of filing false financial statements until the evidence became absolutely overwhelming.

Trial exhibits showed that on May 14, 1991, Symington submitted two different financial statements (they were dated December 31, 1990) to two different lenders. One statement was sent to Valley National Bank (now Bank One) with a claimed net worth of $5.4 million; the other statement was sent to First Interstate Bank (now Wells Fargo) showing a net worth of negative $4.1 million.

"What we had is two documents with two different net worths on the same day," Pettes explained.

No jurors believed this was simply another Symington mistake.
"This man is not stupid," Pettes says.
"Why would you not just keep one statement for that year and send it to everyone? Why are there various versions of these statements?" she says she and other jurors asked.

It was this monumental evidence that finally turned the tide against Symington, Pettes says.

"I think he got to a point where in 1990, he said, 'Oh, man, what do I do?' I think he made a bad decision. He made an illegal decision. And I think he is well aware of the decision he had made."

Pettes says she and a handful of other jurors were reluctant to find Symington guilty of similar charges in earlier years in spite of her view that Symington's defense was nonexistent and his lead attorney, Dowd, was "crude" and ineffective.

"There literally was no defense, in our opinion," she says. "I mean, five witnesses, including Symington. It was a joke."

Dowd's blustery style didn't impress Pettes.
"He's definitely not a man I would want to represent me, and he's not a good public speaker. He'd get up there and ramble on," Pettes says.

Dowd's presentation was so poor, Pettes says, she joked with other jurors that Symington should get his money back.

Pettes has other reasons to be wary of Dowd.
She still believes the man who called her home on the evening of August 21, during the second week of deliberations, and made a death threat sounds like Dowd.

"I don't know who it was. I said it sounded like John Dowd. I still hold firm to that," Pettes tells New Times.

Dowd has denied making any phone calls to jurors and says he was at a dinner party at the home of Carol Henderson, Symington's secretary, when the calls were made. Henderson also received a call that evening from a man who said, "If Fife goes down, you get $10,000. If he goes free, you die. Got that?"

Police records indicate the calls to Pettes and Henderson came from a public phone located at 24th Street and Campbell in Phoenix.

Another juror, Charlotte Hartle, also received a phone call that evening, and says a man told her, "Fife goes free, you get 10 grand," court records state.

Pettes says Hartle also believes the caller sounded like Dowd, and Hartle relayed the information to the FBI, which continues to investigate possible jury tampering. Hartle confirmed Pettes' account, but declined further comment.

Despite Pettes' concerns about Dowd and being "shocked" at the brevity of Symington's defense, the effectiveness of Dowd's performance during the trial should not be underestimated.

Pettes, for one, acknowledges she felt "sorry" for Symington, and says she was touched by the presence of Symington's family during the trial.

"The family came in every day. The son was there. The daughter was there. Ann was there. The grandmother was there," Pettes says. "You realized they are a real family and these are real people and that you are possibly going to destroy their life."

By the end of the trial, Pettes, who voted at least seven times to find Symington guilty of defrauding banks and pension funds, had come to admire Symington.

"I actually developed a respect for him," she says. "He held his head up high . . . he was a classy man."

Pettes continues to be interested in the case. She attended a December 1 hearing where she recognized one of Symington's sons as someone who attends her church.

Pettes says she approached Scott Symington and told him, "I just want to tell you I hope the best works out for your dad and I don't have anything against him. To me, it was just a job I had to do. I'm really keeping you and your family in my prayers.

"He had tears in his eyes and said, 'That really means a lot to me that you would say that.'"

It probably means even more to J. Fife Symington III.

--John Dougherty

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