TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Civil rights worker Spiver Gordon became the first person convicted in a government vote fraud case and angry black leaders charged an all-white jury was 'held hostage' by a federal judge.
The jury broke a five-day deadlock late Wednesday and convicted Gordon of two counts of mail fraud and two counts of providing false information to election officials. He was accused of altering absentee ballots in the September 1984 Democratic primary.
'There is no question but that the case will be appealed,' said defense attorney J. L. Chestnut. 'I have never seen a trial record that cries out more loudly for appeal.'
U.S. District Judge E.B. Haltom Jr. refused repeatedly to grant a mistrial when the jury began struggling with the case last week. When jurors found Gordon innocent on nine counts Saturday and told Haltom they were 'hopelessly deadlocked' on 12 remaining charges, he ordered them to continue.
When the jury returned the guilty verdicts Wednesday -- but with a recommendation for clemency -- Haltom told them that was not their decision and ordered them back to the jury room to make sure they would stand by the verdicts.
'In this case it is my considered judgment that the court went too far,' Chestnut said. 'I bleed for Mr. Gordon, for the jury and for the system. All three have suffered this week.'
Gordon, 46, an officer of the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he was 'as innocent as I was when I walked in the courtroom on day one. The court has spoken, but almighty God has not spoken.'
Gordon will remain free on bond pending his sentencing Nov. 14. He faces a maximum five years in prison and $10,000 fine on each count.
'This judge held the jury hostage,' said SCLC President Joseph Lowery. 'I think it's interesting that the Justice Department had to get an all-white jury and a judge who would keep the jury for five days in order to get a conviction.'
The federal probe of the September 1984 Democratic primaries in west-central Alabama's 'Black Belt' has been denounced by national black leaders as a 'witchhunt' to intimidate black voters and weaken minority political power in the South.
Gordon was acquitted on five other counts Wednesday and Haltom agreed to grant a mistrial on three counts that remained undecided - conspiracy, mail fraud and a charge of voting more than once.
Gordon was one of the eight people indicted in the case that until this week had produced only acquittals and mistrials.
Earlier this week, Bessie Jones Underwood, 31, of Eutaw struck a plea bargain in which 24 counts were dropped for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of improperly casting absentee ballots. She received two years' probation.