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Judge to jurors: Take a break

Jurors have deliberated for 12 hours in the racketeering trial of the Rev. Henry Lyons and Bernice Edwards. They'll continue this morning.

Taylor Langley, 6, swings on a courtroom gate Friday as she and others wait for a verdict in the racketeering trial of her grandfather, the Rev. Henry J. Lyons, and Bernice Edwards. [Times photo: Jim Damaske]

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 1999


LARGO -- After deliberating nearly 12 hours without reaching a verdict in the racketeering trial of Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons and his former aide Bernice Edwards, jurors got this advice:


A Ministry in Question: more Times coverage of the Rev. Henry Lyons


"Get a good night's rest," Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer said she told the six jurors as she dismissed them for the day at 5:40 p.m. Friday. They'll return at 9 a.m. today to continue.

A handful of Lyons' supporters spent the day at the courthouse, though Lyons and Edwards awaited a verdict at the nearby office of one of the minister's attorneys, Jay Hebert. Lyons' daughter, Treva Lyons Langley, was the only member of Lyons' family to spend part of the day at court.

When the judge announced the jury had finished its work for the day, Langley asked a news photographer, "Does the jury know that my grandmother died?"

The Rev. Lyons stepgrandmother, Minnie Lyons, 81, died early Wednesday of natural causes, and a funeral is scheduled for Sunday. Jurors, who began deliberating Thursday afternoon, have not been told about her death.

"Don't they know we have a funeral to go to?" she said. "Why can't they make up their minds?"

That was the question of the day as more than a dozen local and national reporters spent the hours reading or chatting among themselves awaiting an end to the 28-day old trial, one of the longest in recent Pinellas County history.

It's commonly thought by many defense attorneys that prolonged deliberations in a criminal case often point to a divided jury, a sign that may bode well for hopes of an acquittal. But it is all a guessing game.

Lyons' attorneys declined to comment. Lawyer Grady Irvin Jr. would only say, "They're working hard."

Lyons, 57, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, and Edwards, 42, the convention's former public relations director, are accused of using the convention's good name to swindle more than $4-million from corporations eager to tap into the NBC's supposed 8.5-million members.

While both are charged with racketeering, Lyons is separately charged with two counts of grand theft for allegedly pocketing most of the $244,500 the Anti-Defamation League gave to him to distribute to burned black churches in 1996.

"They actually became the Bonnie and Clyde of the National Baptist Convention," Assistant State Attorney Jim Hellickson said in closing arguments earlier in the week.

Defense attorneys, however, said Lyons was free to operate the convention however he saw fit and that his business deals that failed are not matters for criminal court.

"If there's a beef between a business and a private person, you take it to civil court," defense attorney Denis de Vlaming said during his closing.

If jurors fail to reach a verdict today, Schaeffer is likely to order them to resume deliberations Monday.
-- Times staff photographer Jamie Francis contributed to this report.

 

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