Grisham's juror: Life imitates art in Tyco trial

A jury deep in final deliberations after a sensational six-month trail. Two dapper middle-aged moguls fighting for their freedom, accused of stealing $600 million and eviscerating their company. All eyes on the jury as members file past the defense table.

One, a former teacher and lawyer, stuns onlookers by signaling "okay" with her thumb and forefinger to the defense team.

A scene from a best-selling novel or the scenario of a hit Broadway play?

Pas du tout.

 "What they have there is the worst possible juror," says a man who should know, novelist John Grisham. His recent blockbuster, The Runaway Jury, depicts a scenario eerily similar to the events that happened last week in the New York trial of former Tyco executives L. Dennis Kozlowski, 57, and Mark Swartz, 43.

"The prosecutors never want a lawyer on the jury," Grisham says. "This woman appears to be very sympathetic to the defense."

While the former executives are charged with 32 counts of financial misdeeds including grand larceny, "A lot of legal analysts who have been watching the trial," Grisham says, "believe that the prosecution did not prove criminal intent, the crucial element in the case."

The 79-year-old hold-out juror– whom the New York Post has dubbed "Ms. Trial" and "the batty blueblood"– apparently agrees. According to notes from other jurors, the woman wants Swartz and Kozlowski acquitted on all counts and has been refusing to deliberate any other potential verdict.

The men are accused of bilking Tyco International, the Bermuda-based conglomerate they once headed, by hiding excessive pay packages from the company's board and by selling their stock at inflated prices. The trial has been rife with details of financial excess ranging from a $6,000 shower curtain in Kozlowski's apartment, to a party on Sardinia, to the $17 million Swartz reportedly paid for the Enniscorthy estate in southern Albemarle.

Defense attorneys argued that the men earned every dime and that the board of directors and the company's auditors knew about the compensation and never objected.

"The defense made a strong case that the money they spent was approved by the board and that there was no intent to steal," Grisham says. "It's fascinating. It's the kind of stuff I like to create."

But it seems that truth is stranger than fiction. While the "good guys" win in Grisham's story, the jury is still out in New York, with Judge Michael J. Obus adamantly refusing defense requests for a mistrial.

"People ask me where I get my ideas," Grisham says. "I tell them I just read the papers."

John Grisham


Mark Swartz