At one time, most jurors in the Navajo officers murder trial believed Ben Atene Jr. was not guilty, according to a member of the panel.
"We didn't have anything close to a unanimous decision on it," the juror said about Ben Atene Jr. A mistrial was declared for Atene. The juror spoke to the Deseret News with the understanding that the paper would not use the juror's name.U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene told jurors it was up to them whether they talked with reporters. However, several members had privately said members shouldn't talk about it. Others left that issue open.
The guilty verdicts for Vinton Bedoni Jr. and Thomas Cly were reached Saturday night. "And then we deliberated all day yesterday and all day today on Ben Atene," the juror said Tuesday night.
This juror believes Atene was not guilty. "At one time we had a majority (voting) not guilty, and there were just a few people that needed to re-evaluate their feelings."
The juror said some members of the panel were taken aback by the prior inconsistent statements by prosecution witnesses. "That's one of the things I tried to deliberate."
The twelve "had to weigh the reasons why these people lied in the grand jury and now, all of a sudden, they're telling the truth in the trial."
Another serious stumbling block to a verdict was that no bullet holes were discovered in the bodies of Officers Roy Lee Stanley and Andy Begay.
"They were using hollow-point bullets, and hollow-point bullets were used to mushroom." Mushrooming bullets presumably would have left traces.
Jurors deadlocked because "basically in the whole case there was no physical evidence. Secondly, there were too many prior inconsistent statements."
Then why was there a guilty verdict for Cly and Bedoni?
The panel depended largely on "the testimony of Marie (Haycock), Martha (Chee) and Boyd Atene," the juror said. These eye-witnesses were called by the prosecution.
"There was so much emotion involved in all this," the juror said. "Some of the women (on the jury) shed some tears, and the tears weren't because we didn't have a verdict, but (because) it was hard to find Ben Atene Jr. guilty on all the evidence."
Apparently conflicting testimony about where defendants were the night of the killings was one of the jury's main problems. But jurors felt, when weighing conflicting testimony, they "had to believe somebody in this case."
For example, when defendants took the witness stand on their own behalf, "I wanted to believe those guys."
The juror wondered why there was no testimony from certain people named by witnesses as having also been present when the officers were shot. One man he mentioned "supposedly had blood all over his clothes" from lifting the wounded officers into their panel trucks. Another was said to have driven a police truck to Copper Canyon, where they were torched.
Testimony from them "would have cleared up a lot of things."
The juror was surprised that "when we read the verdict, (there was) no emotion from any of the Indians," except one woman in the audience.
Defendants simply stared stoically.
"I was kind of shocked that there was no emotion."
The jurors themselves felt emotional about convicting "somebody of first-degree murder based on the evidence. It was pretty hairy."