VERO BEACH – Six members of the jury said after the case against former Vero Beach attorney Ira Hatch had been settled by a plea agreement that they were one day away from coming in with a verdict of guilty.
“We were pretty close,” juror Wilson Chery said right after Hatch had agreed Monday to plead guilty to a single charge of racketeering and put his fate in the hands of Senior Judge James Midelis who could send the disbarred attorney to jail for 30 years.
In the course of their two days of deliberations, jurors had made it to Count 21 of the 45 charges against Hatch – with a finding of guilty for each one. “We had a lot of guilty counts,” Jury Foreman Brent Atwell said.
Barbara Brown said the reason their deliberations were taking so long was because they were diligently reviewing each count, the testimony and the financial figures.
“We just wanted to check it,” Brown said.
Midelis approved plea deal between Hatch and the State Attorney’s Office, but he regretted informing the jury their work had been cut short.
“The real problem I have (with agreeing to the deal) is telling the jury,” the judge told both sets of counsel.
Defense attorney Greg Eisenmenger told the judge that if not for the jury, there would have been no plea deal.
“They’re still going to ask why,” Judge Midelis responded.
Before being dismissed from the courtroom, Midelis thanked thanked the members of the jury for their efforts.
“You are the catalyst that makes the system work,” the judge told them, most of whom sat in the jury box without showing emotion.
When Midelis said that there would have been no plea deal if not for the jury, a couple members slightly nodded their heads.
“I want to thank all of you for the sacrifices you have made,” Judge Midelis said.
Outside the courthouse, the jurors asked why, after nearly two months the attorneys decided to strike a deal.
The jurors did express relief that they would be allowed to get back to their “normal” lives now that the trial is over.
“We have a seven weeks invested in this,” Atwell said.