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Serb's case ends in mistrial

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published June 12, 2007


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TAMPA - After jurors announced they were hopelessly deadlocked, a federal judge declared a mistrial Monday in the case of a Serb refugee accused of falsifying his immigration papers.

A hearing is expected today to determine when, or if, a new trial should be held for Branko Popic, 59.

Popic of St. Petersburg is accused of omitting his service in a Serb army on his application for U.S. citizenship. He is charged with one count of fraud and one count of making false statements. If convicted, he could get 10 years in prison and be deported.

After more than seven hours of deliberations Friday, the jury foreman sent a note to U.S. District Judge James Whittemore informing him they were unable to reach a verdict. Whittemore, who was filling in for the presiding judge, James Moody, directed the jury to continue deliberating.

Jurors recessed for the weekend. After an hour of discussion Monday, the foreman sent a note to the judge saying jurors were still deadlocked.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Hansen urged the judge to tell the jurors to keep trying. Whittemore said he had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

Juror Karla Steward, 23, of Tampa said the jury was split 11-1 for conviction on the first count and 10-2 on the second.

Steward, who sided with the majority, said she was not persuaded by Popic's attorney, Adam Allen, who said his client was declared unfit for combat and served in civilian units during the conflict in Bosnia.

"The definition of service could be anything, from civilian to military, " Steward said. "It still should have been stated."

Popic was one of six Serbian refugees from the St. Petersburg area arrested in December as part of a nationwide sweep. The investigation grew out of a plan to track soldiers who participated in the massacre at Srebrenica, which has been called the largest European mass murder since World War II.

Popic and the other defendants are not accused of war crimes. However, prosecutors say they may have served in units involved in the massacre.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 01:27:07]


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