Call it the Beyonce factor.
It's that breath-taking moment when a celebrity shows up in a criminal courtroom – as defendant, victim, witness or, as Beyonce did last week, as spectator – and parades in front of a jury that isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a jury of her peers.The first question that comes to mind – after inquiring as to which designer made their clothes – is whether flaunting fame and money will impress or inflame a jury.
Among those anxious to know the answer are Kobe Bryant, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson and – as of earlier this week – rap star Beanie Sigel.
While fame certainly helped our old pal, O.J. Simpson, it didn't do jack for Martha Stewart. As for Sigel, Beyonce's favorite defendant, it's a toss-up: The rapper's star-studded attempted murder trial ended in a hung jury.
“With jurors, of course, they notice,” said Art Patterson, senior vice president of DecisionQuest, a trial-consulting firm.
“We know from talking to jurors that, of course, they notice who's in the courtroom,” Patterson said. “Jurors, during the trial, are somewhat bored. The pace is slow. And they see everything in the courtroom.”
Several of Sigel's jurors registered recognition when they saw all the stars in the room. First it was Sigel, himself, then record exec Damon Dash, then rapper Jay-Z and, finally, Beyonce Knowles.
“The jury was certainly aware of their presence,” Sigel's attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said yesterday.
Perri said the Roc-A-Fella Records executives decided to have famous supporters attend the trial. He wasn't sure if the atmosphere influenced deliberations.
“It may show he's above all that” crime, Perri said of Sigel.
Defense attorney Charles Peruto Jr., who was not involved in the Sigel case, agreed.
“I think it helps because there are some jurors who aren't going to be aware of who Beanie is,” Peruto said. “And if he is that big and celebrated, he doesn't have to do this s—.”
The Philadelphia district attorney's office declined to comment on the celebrity issue.
Defense attorney Tariq El-Shabazz said the most influential appearance at Sigel's trial may have been Beyonce's.
“One thing Beyonce added was, she has cross-over appeal,” he said. “Someone who has the image of being clean-cut [showing up], I think it will assist.”
Martha Stewart's butter-cream image didn't save her from a conviction for lying to government investigators about her stocks case, but the celebrity status of her pocketbook might give her a second chance.
Stewart's attorneys requested a new trial after a juror disclosed that the panel had discussed – apparently with disdain – the high price of Stewart's Hermes Birkin bag during deliberations. (The handbag sells for $6,000-$80,000, according to the New York Times.)
(Lucky for Beanie Sigel he couldn't wear his fedora or smoke that big, fat cigar in the courtroom.)
At least one juror in the fraud trial against Tyco International CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski appeared swayed by the astounding wealth that allowed him to throw a $2 million birthday party and buy a $6,000 shower curtain. A mistrial was declared this month after intense media coverage of a Tyco juror reportedly flashing the “OK” hand signal to the defense attorneys.
The juror has denied the behavior.
“The question is, how does [fame] cut? Does it help or hurt?” Patterson said.
“A simple way to look at it is, in any kind of trial, defense counsel always says to the accused, 'Have your wife and children sit in the front row, crying,' ” he said. “Why would they do it? For obvious reasons: jury sympathy.”
Dick Sprague, who successfully represented basketball superstar Allen Iverson during a preliminary hearing for gun and conspiracy charges in August 2002, said the appearance of a celebrity at a trial can help the defendant – if it is subtle.
“It depends on how you do it,” he said. “If it doesn't look like it's staged, I think it can help you. If they jury is getting the idea they're being pulled, it could backfire.”
El-Shabazz said jurors who knew and liked rap music surely would have been impressed by the celebrity fashion show at Sigel's trial, but those who were offended by the music would have been turned off.
“I think it depends on the makeup of the jury,” he said.
The jury did seem split on their verdict of hip-hop celebrity status.
Several middle-aged jurors appeared too exasperated and exhausted from deliberations to even glance at the audience. Two older women seemed oblivious to the celebs. One young woman, however, couldn't seem to contain a wide grin – bordering on an outright giggle of delight – whenever she gazed into the gallery.
Sigel's retrial has not been scheduled. It was unclear if any celebrities will show up for the rerun. *