By the time jurors in the Seth Adams case were sent home last week without reaching a unanimous verdict, all but one agreed Palm Beach County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer had no reason to fatally shoot the 24-year-old outside a Loxahatchee Groves nursery, an attorney for Adams’ family said Monday.
Attorney Wallace McCall, who represents Lydia and Richard Adams, said two jurors he talked to and another juror who reached out to his law partner agreed the jury voted 8-1 that Custer used excessive force in the May 2012 shooting death.
Without revealing the names of the jurors he talked to or the name of the apparent hold-out, he said the three jurors agreed it was incorrectly reported to U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley that it had been a 7-2 decision. The three jurors agreed that the vote on a separate question – whether Custer had intentionally destroyed his cell phone to prevent the revelation of damaging text messages – had been 8-1 as reported to Hurley.
McCall said it is unclear how the error occurred. But, he said, jurors recalled that in early votes during three days of deliberations there had been two hold-outs. But, he said, by the time Hurley on Wednesday declared a mistrial because the panel had unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the three jurors said eight agreed Custer had used excessive force.
They said the one juror had “personal issues,” but didn’t detail what made the juror steadfastly disagree with the rest of the panel, he said.
“They’re upset. They’re very, very upset,” McCall said of the three jurors who came forward. “They felt they worked incredibly hard. They felt we absolutely proved the case.”
None of the nine jurors were willing to talk to The Palm Beach Post despite repeated efforts to contact them.
One of the nine jurors is Lisa Niemi Swayze, the widow of famed “Dirty Dancing” actor Patrick Swayze, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009.
McCall, who had asked the jury to award Adams’ parents $10 million to $20 million for the loss of their son, said jurors told him they never talked about possible damages. While some numbers were thrown out, he said such conversations were halted while jurors struggled to reach agreement on whether Custer used excessive force.
Attorney Richard Giuffreda, who represents Custer and the sheriff’s office, wasn’t immediately available for comment about whether he had spoken to any of the jurors.
Adams’ parents believe the truth about their son’s death outside the family-owned A One Stop Garden Shop came out during the month-long trial, McCall said.
Custer testified that Adams attacked him and that he was forced to shoot, fearing Adams had grabbed a gun from the cab of his truc. But McCall and attorney Stephan LeClainche made a case using evidence collected by the sheriff’s own investigators that Custer’s story didn’t add up. Bullet casings, a bullet fragment and a puddle of blood were all found at the back of the truck, feet from where Custer said the shooting occurred.
While believing they scored a moral victory, McCall said, Lydia and Richard Adams want to retry to the case. He said he will also entertain any settlement offers from the sheriff’s office.
Hurley, who harshly criticized the sheriff’s office investigation of the shooting during the trial but outside the jury’s hearing, has urged both sides to work toward a settlement. He has scheduled a hearing on March 30 to determine the next step in the case.
McCall said that while he has had other hung juries in his roughly 40-year career, the holdout typically is a soft-hearted soul who wants to give money to the victim.
“It’s extremely rare to have one hold out for the defense,” he said. “These people wanted to be on the jury. You don’t want to be on a jury to screw over someone.”