Harris County Pct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole was accused in a four count federal indictment of trading political favors in exchange for over 100K in cash, gifts and trips from developer and longtime friend Mike Surface. Prosecutors claim Eversole helped steer lucrative county contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.
Before the case began, Eversole insisted on a speedy trial. It had his attorney scrambling to prepare a defense.
Then, toward the end of the 3-week trial, defense attorney Rusty Hardin declared that since the government presented a weak case, he would move on to closing arguments without calling a single witness. It left jurors unable to decide unanimously on a verdict. John Hopkins is jury foreman. He said it was an awesome responsibility to sit in judgment of someone else.
Loren Hoffman and speaking, Jury Foreman John Hopkins
"We had a lot of back and forth. At the end of the day, ten of us thought he was guilty on at least two chargers. We couldn't sway the other two."
It was a legal gamble that paid off for Hardin and his client Eversole.
"We're disappointed obviously, that some jurors reached a conclusion different than what we think is right. There is no question in our mind that he's innocent of these charges, and we'll get another trial in a few weeks, whenever the judge decides that to be."
The mistrial came despite Federal Judge David Hittner's efforts to break a deadlock. He called on jurors to write questions for the attorneys, and ordered the attorneys to address those questions in another round of closing arguments. Jury Foreman Hopkins says that swayed some undecided votes, but it wasn't enough for a unanimous decision.
"There was one word—corruptly. We all agreed he took the money that was evident. We all agreed he used his office, or his influence. The question for two of us was, did he do that corruptly?"
Hopkins says he believes in the government's charge that Eversole abused his position unlawfully.
Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole and defense attorney Rusty Hardin
"I think he should be kicked out."
Reporter: "I'm sorry?"
Hopkins: "I think he should be kicked out of office immediately."
In the meantime, attorney Rusty Hardin says it's not over for his client.
"Our basic defense and contention has always been the same thing: He never did anything in his official capacity, in return for anything Mike Surface gave him — when they were taking trips or doing anything else. And that's the basic point."
A retrial could happen soon, before the end of April. If so, and he's convicted, Eversole could get up to 21-years in prison and a 700-thousand dollar fine.