Judge declares mistrial in Steele case
Another defeat for the Office of the Independent Counsel
May 7, 1999
Web posted at: 4:50 p.m. EDT (2050 GMT)
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AllPolitics, May 7) -- U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton has declared a mistrial in Julie Hiatt Steele's obstruction of justice trial after the jury told him it was "hopelessly deadlocked" on all four felony charges.
Independent Counsel Ken Starr had accused Steele of obstructing his probe of President Bill Clinton by lying to a grand jury about what and when former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey told her about an alleged sexual advance by Clinton.
Julie Hiatt Steele talks to the press outside the courthouse
Outside the courthouse Steele said she planned to "celebrate" and "start life again," though her lawyer would not let her answer any further questions because the case is "still pending." (116K wav file)
"I'm innocent. I feel relieved and happy and I think it's time to celebrate," Steele said. "It's been a long, long road. I'm glad I spoke out." (56K wav file)
Starr has 70 days to decide whether to retry Steele. One of the independent counsel's prosecutors told CNN he phoned Starr in Florida after the trial ended to inform him of the outcome. According to the prosecutor, Starr said he had no reaction to the mistrial.
Steele is the only person known to have been indicted on criminal charges during Starr's investigation of the affair between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Starr's last trial, the obstruction of justice and criminal contempt case against Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, ended with an acquittal on an obstruction of justice charge and a mistrial on two criminal contempt charges.
Jury: 'Hopelessly deadlocked'
After 7 1/2 hours of deliberations over two days the Steele jury foreman sent a note to Hilton Friday afternoon saying the panel of five men and seven women was "hopelessly deadlocked" on the three counts of obstruction of justice and one count of making false statements.
Steele's defense then immediately asked for a mistrial but prosecutors from Starr's office asked the judge to have the jury continue its deliberations. Hilton then told jurors to listen to his final instructions and to return
to their deliberations and "make one more attempt" to resolve their differences.
About an hour and a half later, the jury sent out a second note saying they were still deadlocked and that further deliberations would not -- with not underlined for emphasis -- resolve the matter.
The judge then called in the jury, which again said it was deadlocked, and declared a mistrial.
The jury abruptly received the case Thursday after Steele's attorneys rested without presenting a defense.
The defense's surprise move not to call Steele or any other witnesses came moments after Hilton rejected a defense request to dismiss all four felony counts against Steele.
The charges stem from Steele recanting an earlier story and instead stating under oath that her former friend, Willey, never told her that Clinton made an unwanted sexual advance on Willey in the White House in 1993. Steele claims that Willey asked her to lie about the alleged incident.
Prosecution: Steele betrayed her friend for money
Throughout the case, the prosecution painted Steele as a woman who betrayed her friend Willey to profit from the high-profile story and avoid challenging the president of the United States.
Prosecutors put Willey on the stand as their star witness. Willey insisted that she told her onetime friend of the incident shortly after it happened in 1993, and that the two spoke of it "many many times" afterwards.
The former White House volunteer also went into much more detail than ever before about the alleged "groping" by the president off the Oval Office. Clinton has denied under oath Willey's accusation that he sexually harassed her in the White House meeting.
To corroborate Willey's version of events, Starr's prosecutors presented several witnesses who testified Steele was aware of at least some information
about the alleged incident before 1997.
Steele told grand juries and FBI investigators she learned of the matter only when Willey called her in 1997 and told her to lie to a Newsweek reporter, and to support Willey's version of events.
Defense: Willey is the liar
In her closing arguments, defense attorney Nancy Luque said it was Willey who was lying, and told the jury that the prosecution had failed to make its case.
"It was Willey who betrayed Steele, and it was Ken Starr who betrayed the rule of law," Luque told the jury.
Sources close to the defense tell CNN that the "difficult" decision to not present its case was made early Thursday because Steele's attorneys believed their cross-examination of Willey badly damaged her credibility.
Willey had conceded inconsistencies between her trial testimony and her sworn testimony in the Paula Jones civil case.
She also acknowledged she had lied to the independent counsel about a relationship with a former boyfriend. Willey grudgingly admitted she had once asked Steele, a former close friend, to lie if questioned about Willey's whereabouts during a visit to the boyfriend.
CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.