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Powell Not Guilty on Manslaughter Charge, Jury Hung on Others

Aired August 9, 2002 - 14:13   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Want to take you now to New Jersey for a closely watched case there where -- remember, this is a case of a friend who is being charged or being held liable for the death of another friend who apparently was drunk, got behind the wheel, under the observation of his friend. It appears as though the judge and jurors are now explaining to the courtroom that the jurors are deadlocked. Let's listen in on the dialogue taking place right now.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WILLIAM FORRESTER, SALEM COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: ... any further annunciation of the law or any further time or any further effort by the jury would be profitable in reaching a unanimous verdict, I, of course, would cause that to occur.

But it appears not. But I will let you hear -- hear that from the jury foreperson, and the remainder of the jury for that matter. So Mr. -- Sheriff, could you have our jury come out please?

WHITFIELD: All right. So once again, you are hearing from the judge there in New Jersey that it appears at this juncture that a seven man, five woman jury panel is deadlocked in the case of Kenneth Powell. He is being charged with -- being held responsible for the death of his friend who died while driving drunk.

Bob Franken is outside the courthouse. He has been following this case, which really is a landmark case because it certainly could influence just how any following drunk driving cases or anything related to, therefore, might be changed -- Bob, what are you hearing right now?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course what we are hearing is that the jury was well aware of the huge significance here, and had said two days ago that it was in deadlock, but the judge continued to tell them to negotiate. They continued to negotiate yesterday. They continued to negotiate through the morning hours this morning. Sent the judge a note, Judge William Forester, the note we just heard passed on, which was that they were hopelessly deadlocked. It was a hung jury, and the precedings go on in the court.

The question now becomes, will the case be retried. It's a case involving Kenneth Powell. Kenneth Powell was the friend of a drunk driver who, two years ago, killed another man and himself. Powell was on trial, charged with aggravated assault, but more importantly, vehicular homicide and manslaughter because he had received a call from his friend who had been arrested hours earlier by state troopers on July 22, two years ago and had been taken to the state police barracks.

Then Powell went and got him, and took him back to his car, and the drunken friend left. His name was Michael Pangle. Three hours later, Pangle slammed into a car driven by a Navy ensign, Johnny Elliott and killed him. Powell was on trial for what would have amounted to a charge of criminal negligence. As we've heard, since this is such a ground breaking area, the jurors had very strong feelings on the matter, and they had, as a matter of fact, had made their decision.

Let's go back to the court.

FORRESTER: ... any of the definitions that -- that I have explained to you, or any of the charges that I have explained to you, or any of the law, in general, that wasn't specifically directed at a statutory charge. Is there anything I could do with regard to further explanation of the law that you feel might be helpful?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Not now.

FORRESTER: So say all of you? Let me ask you then, further, then, with respect to the law as it was delivered to you, are you clear as to what it is that needed to be established beyond a reasonable doubt by the state?

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes.

FORRESTER: All right. Specifically, your note says that "we are hopelessly deadlocked on charges two and three," and of course, two and three were vehicular homicide death by auto, is count two, and count three is the aggravated assault.

In your note, which I believe is court three, which I will mark that court's exhibit number three, that, of course, indicates to me that you were not hopelessly deadlocked insofar as the first charge is concerned, the manslaughter charge. Is that right?

And with respect to it, you did reach a unanimous verdict as to it, and what was that unanimous verdict?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not guilty.

FORRESTER: Not guilty. And so say all of you?

I won't poll the jury under these circumstances. All have agreed that that was the -- that was the finding as to that charge.

Nothing further I could do, no further time? I ask you to come back and be with us all next week?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could ask. FORRESTER: Through Labor Day -- Labor Day, Halloween? Say, nothing like -- even if you were to stay -- and I -- not trying to be humorous, but I am suggesting to -- no further time, whether it be another day, another hour, another week, none of that would help in your judgment; is that right? So say all of you?

All right. Counsel, anything further?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your honor, pending the decision by the prosecutor for a retrial, we wish the current vow (ph) be continued in this matter. There also would be the issue of a new trial date. Is the court benevolent to preliminarily schedule a trial date at this point?

FORRESTER: I'm prepared to schedule not a preliminary trial date, but a new trial date. Anything further?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gag order in this case, we continue to raise our concerns on that. The defendant really would wish to speak to all concerned about this issue. We wish to preserve our objections to the gag order at this point, your honor.

FORRESTER: The state wish to be heard on that latter point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing the state would like to say is the defendant certainly will have another opportunity to speak at court if he so chooses. That's when he can get his message out. The state takes no position on the gag order.

However, the only thing the state would request, consistent with our discussions in chambers, out of respect for the ladies and members of the jury as well as the alternates on the jury, I think all parties agreed that the gag order should extend to the press from speaking with the jury.

(CROSSTALK)

FORRESTER: Mr. Manganelo (ph)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Judge, if the state is indicating -- if the state is implying that there will be a retrial and that is why the defendant will have another opportunity to speak, we want that trial date today, if that is at all possible to give us, judge.

FORRESTER: As soon as you sit down, you will have it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

FORRESTER: I don't mean that sarcastically, but we are ready to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, judge.

FORRESTER: All right. Two things, preliminarily. First, I would entirely remiss if I didn't express the genuine thanks from the -- from all the court personnel here for the way the jury responded. The state of New Jersey thanks you for your service, the county of Salem thanks you for your service, certainly, I am convinced. I know what you were doing and...

WHITFIELD: All right. You are looking at Judge William Forrester thank the jurors there in New Jersey after the jurors came to the court and said, We all right hopelessly deadlocked on two out of three charges. Hopelessly deadlocked on aggravated assault and vehicular homicide, but in a unanimous decision, found Kenneth Powell not guilty of manslaughter. And Kenneth Powell was being charged -- being held responsible in these charges in the death of his friend, who was driving drunk, who consequently died along with another person who died in that accident.

Bob Franken has been following this trial throughout, and Bob, we saw a very relieved looking Kenneth Powell there with the camera on him as the judge was going over this -- their decision, of being hopelessly deadlocked on two out of those three counts.

FRANKEN: Well, what he got was good news, and the not so bad news. What he got was the good news, of course, that he had been found not guilty of what is most serious of the charges, the manslaughter charge, and that the jury was hung on the charges vehicular homicide and aggravated assault, as you just saw.

What we also just saw is that there is no decision yet on the prosecutor's part whether to order a retrial, but the judge in anticipation of that, has continued a gag order which means that the principals in the case, the attorneys, et cetera, will not be able to, in fact, speak publicly in anticipation of the fact that there might be some further -- some further trial or something like that.

But Judge William Forrester is still speaking.

FORRESTER: That is to ensure to the extent possible that Mr. Powell, and the state of New Jersey receive a fair trial. Of course, I'm very mindful of the First Amendment, but I'm equally mindful of the Sixth Amendment...

FRANKEN: What they are talking about now -- what they are talking about now is whether, in fact, this gag order can be released. The various parties in the case, that is to say the defense attorneys, et cetera, have wanted to talk to the media, but the judge has clamped down a very strict gag order allowing instead the proceedings in the court to be public.

Fredricka, so, very quickly, the ruling was hung jury on two of the three counts, a not guilty plea against -- against Mr. Powell, who was the person who was charged with providing the problems for his drunk defendant, who then killed himself and another person two years ago in a drunk driving accident. Not landmark because it really is inconclusive.

WHITFIELD: Right. OK. Thanks very much. Bob Franken from New Jersey.

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