An 11-person jury will continue to deliberate in the Sines v. Kessler case, stretching the trial into its fifth week with one fewer juror due to a possible COVID-19 exposure.
On Friday, the jury entered the courthouse and began deliberating for the first time following weeks of testimony and the presentation of hundreds of pieces of evidence. The federal lawsuit, which was filed in October 2017, alleges that more than two dozen defendants conspired to come to Charlottesville in August 2017 and commit acts of racist violence.
Among the defendants are: key UTR organizer Jason Kessler; alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer; neo-Nazi podcaster Chris Cantwell; former National Socialist Movement leader Jeff Schoep; and corporate defendants of the League of the South, the Traditionalist Worker Party and Identity Evropa and their leaders.
Friday began with the excusal of one of the jurors, who told the court his children were possibly exposed to COVID-19 at their school. According to U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon, the excused juror said the exposure happened Thursday, indicating there is no risk of that juror having exposed the rest of the jury to the virus. Moon also indicated that the juror was not vaccinated.
A full panel of 12 jurors is not needed to reach a verdict, according to federal law.
In order to determine guilt, the jury must first decide whether the defendants entered into a conspiracy through the “preponderance of evidence.” The threshold for this determination is lower than in a criminal case, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Moon has previously instructed the jury to consider the “preponderance” instruction to mean that something is more likely than not, or the evidence points to a claim being 51% likely.
As Moon has pointed out to parties throughout the case, the threshold for being considered part of a conspiracy is also low, and requires that a defendant join an action at one point. All the defendants do not have to be involved at the same time and a single action can be sufficient, Moon has previously indicated.
The day was largely silent, with the jurors asking few questions. One of the only questions asked revolved around whether the court had already found that absent defendants Robert “Azzmador” Ray and Elliott Kline had conspired to engage in racially motivated violence. Moon said that was a decision for the jury to decide, along with any awarded damages.
The nine plaintiffs are seeking between $7 million and $10 million for those injured in the car attack; for those injured at the rallies in other ways, they are requesting between $3 million and $5 million.
Though most of the individual and corporate defendants have little money or collateral, a steep financial verdict could impede future organizing efforts, effectively stopping or limiting their white supremacist causes.
By day’s end Friday the jury had still not reached a verdict, opting to end the day rather than continue past 5 p.m. The jury will resume deliberation on Monday at 9 a.m., and court officials for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia are preparing for the possibility that deliberations may last until Nov. 26.