Rodney Morrison cigarette case back in court

Undated photo of Rodney Morrison.

Undated photo of Rodney Morrison. (Credit: Handout)

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys have more than three months to figure out how they will question a juror who has admitted that bribery offers were made four years ago during deliberations in the case of Poospatuck Indian reservation cigarette bootlegger Rodney Morrison.

The lengthy time to prepare for a hearing was given by U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley in federal court in Central Islip on Monday. Hurley acknowledged it might be only the first "incremental" step in resolving the thorny legal issues raised by the alleged bribe attempt as to whether Morrison received a fair trial.

Hurley set an initial hearing on the situation for April 26.

One legal scholar has said the case includes a number of legal questions on jury tampering and double jeopardy that have not been decided by higher courts.

Morrison was convicted in 2008 of racketeering for running the bootlegging operation on the Mastic reservation, and also of being a felon in possession of a gun.

He was sentenced to 10 years on the gun charge, and is awaiting sentencing on the racketeering charge, for which he could face an additional 20 years. But Morrison was acquitted on charges of murdering a rival, arson, extortion and robbery.

Eastern District federal prosecutors revealed that the juror only recently admitted receiving the bribe offers and may have told other jurors about them during deliberations four years ago.

The juror was not identified by name or gender.

The juror did not come forward, but made the admissions only after the government was led to the person by an informant and an alternate juror, according to court papers.

The bribe attempt was made by a person thought to be a member of Morrison's family and was made over a cellphone found near a car the juror was using in the parking lot of the federal courthouse in Central Islip, the papers say.

The juror initially said the bribe was rejected. But after a polygraph exam, the juror said the caller was told a bribe would be accepted, but that supposed acceptance was done "merely to end contact with the caller."

David Moran, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, has said the case raises previously unresolved questions of jury tampering and double jeopardy.

These include whether Morrison can argue that his convictions should be overturned or whether the government can ask for a retrial on the charges of which he was acquitted, Moran said.

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