Court officials say that a Bahamas lawmaker who caused a mistrial in the John Travolta
extortion case has been ordered to appear before the judge to explain why he announced an acquittal before the jury had declared a verdict.
Court officials tell The Associated Press that Picewell Forbes has been summoned to explain his remarks in a televised speech to a political party that prompted the judge to dismiss jurors after a month of testimony.
The court officials spoke Thursday to the AP on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the issue.
Forbes and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. The attorney earlier said Forbes was repeating a rumor and had not had time to verify it before he spoke.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) — A judge has ordered a mistrial in the case of an alleged extortion attempt against John Travolta
and a top court official said Thursday a new trial is not likely to start before next year.
Senior Justice Anita Allen said Wednesday night she was reluctantly ordering a new trial because a politician announced that one of the defendants would be freed, giving the appearance of an improper leak from the jury room.
"The dilemma that we face is great," Allen said in court. "I am erring on the side of caution. Justice must be transparent."
Bahamas chief magistrate Roger Gomez said that the new trial is not likely to start until early 2010 because the court's calendar is full through the rest of this year.Amb
ulance driver Tarino Lightbourne and his attorney, politician Pleasant Bridgewater, were accused of demanding $25 million from Travolta to keep them from releasing private information about the death of Travolta's 16-year-old son Jett at the family vacation home in Grand Bahama on Jan. 2. They denied the allegations.
Bridgewater resigned her seat in the Bahamas Senate after she was charged in the case.
Jurors were still deliberating when lawmaker Picewell Forbes announced to an audience at a Progressive Liberal Party convention that party member Bridgewater would be cleared.
"Pleasant is a free woman, PLPs! God is good, PLPs! Pleasant is a free woman!" Forbes said, prompting cheers and an outburst of song from the crowd.
Soon after, Alex
Storr, the party's deputy chairman-elect, said Forbes had misspoken. He said the information was incorrect and no verdict had been issued. He apologized on behalf of the party.
But the judge said that Forbes' comment gave her no choice but to dismiss the jurors.
The jury, which deliberated about nine hours, had spent a month listening to testimony including from Travolta, who flew to the Bahamas to take the stand. Michael Ossi, one of the actor's attorneys, said his client would cooperate in any way possible and testify again if necessary.
"We are committed to seeing this through, and we are committed to seeing justice served," Ossi said. "And whatever the prosecution asks us to do is exactly what we will do."
Lawyers for the defendants told the nine-member jury that their clients were set up by lawyers for Travolta. They also said authorities misinterpreted their actions.
The alleged plot centered on a document that would have released emergency responders from liability if the family refused an ambulance ride to the hospital for Jett, who suffered a deadly seizure.
Travolta said he signed the waiver because he initially wanted his autistic son flown directly to Florida for treatment. But he later changed his mind, and the document did not come into play.
The actor testified that Lightbourne threatened to sell stories to the media suggesting that he was at fault in his son's death.