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When a Columbia County, N.Y., jury last week reported it had reached a verdict in a robbery case, and then reported that the verdict was guilty, defense lawyer Robert W. Linville figured it was all over for his client. But as every criminal defense lawyer is taught to do, Linville requested a poll of the jurors in open court — an exercise usually akin to rubbing salt in an open wound. Juror No. 1 confirmed his verdict was guilty, but then Juror No. 2 shocked everyone in the courtroom by reporting that guilty was not her verdict. “Everybody was stunned,” said Linville, an assistant public defender in Columbia County. “It blew out the verdict. They’d already convicted the guy on count one, and we hadn’t even gotten to count two.” The attorneys and Columbia County Judge Paul Czajka, with a combination of well over 50 years of legal experience behind them, were baffled. None had ever seen such a circumstance, which sent them scurrying to the law books to figure out what to do next. The Criminal Procedure Law provided guidance, and the jurors were sent back for further deliberations and, hopefully, clarification of their verdict. Several hours later, the jury sent a note asking for readbacks — there were only two prosecution witnesses and none for the defense — and a definition of reasonable doubt. The jury also confided the count was now nine for acquittal, two for conviction and one still undecided. Czajka provided the information and definition requested, and sent the jury back to the deliberation room. After two more hours, the jury again reported it had a unanimous verdict. This time, it was 12-0 for acquittal. Assistant District Attorney David M. Costanzo then asked for a poll of the jurors, and the verdict stood this time. Frederick Douglas Credle, a predicate felon looking at seven years in prison, walked out of court a free man. “We talked to the jury afterward and expressed our disbelief,” Linville said. “Juror No. 2, in answer to the question as to how they convicted in the first place, said it was out of ‘frustration,’ whatever that could mean. Other jurors chimed in and said they had trouble with the level of proof. They said it was real thin.” “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Costanzo, the prosecutor. “It is unique.” The case was basically a shoplifting incident where the perpetrator allegedly grabbed some DVDs, video games and other items and bolted from the store in Greenport, N.Y. Credle, 37, was charged with a felony robbery count and a misdemeanor of petit larceny, even though no goods were recovered, let alone linked directly to him. The main proof was that Credle was in the store — there was no dispute about that — and he left in a big hurry. People v. Credle remains a topic of wonder in Columbia County legal circles, leading to commentary and observations not only in the courthouse but on the Internet as well. “How does one explain this?” asks Spencertown, N.Y., defense attorney David Seth Michaels in a digital missive to several other attorneys in the region. “You might conclude that the jury was completely irresponsible and that it was only when one of the members (juror number 2) was conscience stricken, that she forced the others to pay attention. Or you might conclude that it was a power struggle and that the jurors didn’t care what they decided as long as they got to go home quickly. Or you might have some other equally good theory.” In an interview, Michaels said he has never seen a case where a polling of the jury yielded a different result than the one initially reported. “I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” he said. “It turned all the way around from guilty to not guilty in a matter of hours. There must have been some sort of vote where they decided the guy was guilty. But how do you go from 12-zip to zip-12 in a few hours? I don’t get it.” Whatever transpired in the jury room, the case is an object lesson for defense attorneys, Linville said. “The moral of the story if you’re a defense attorney is always poll the jury,” he said.

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