Jurors in the trial of former Texas Southern University president Priscilla Slade said they could not decide if she misspent school funds to lavishly decorate her homes, resulting in a mistrial.
The jury deliberated for four days before telling state District Judge Brock Thomas in a note Friday that “to continue deliberating would be of no benefit.” The jurors had told Thomas in three previous notes that they were deadlocked.
“We have agonized over this,” jurors said in their final note. “We have re-examined the evidence, some parts over and over, some parts line by line, in more detail than we ever expected or cared to, to thoroughly fulfill our duty. However, we cannot arrive at a unanimous verdict without doing violence to our consciences.”
After reading the note in court, Thomas asked defense attorney Mike DeGeurin if he wanted to ask for a mistrial.
“I think it’s clear the jury has worked as hard as they can beyond what they probably thought they would have to do,” Thomas said. “I don’t see a purpose at this time to continue.”
Slade was president of TSU, the state’s largest historically Black university, for more than six years. She could have been sentenced to life in prison if convicted of misapplication of fiduciary property with a value over $200,000, though the jury could have opted for a lesser charge.
DeGeurin said later he would have preferred an acquittal.
“It’s been a long eight weeks of trial,” he said. “Obviously I’ve got a deep, deep belief in Dr. Slade’s innocence so it would be great if it had been a total not guilty.”
Slade, who joined hands in the courtroom with five other women to pray soon after the mistrial was declared, expressed her relief.
“We knew from the beginning that the truth would set us free,” Slade said outside the courthouse.
Prosecutor Julian Ramirez said a new trial was likely.
“We’re disappointed the jury was not able to reach a unanimous verdict. However, we remain committed to prosecuting this case … and holding Priscilla Slade accountable for her actions,” he said.
Ramirez said prosecutors would look at streamlining their case and focusing on different issues.
Jurors had first indicated they were deadlocked on Wednesday by an 8-4 vote. On Thursday, they said the vote was 7-5, but by Friday, it was 6-6.
Juror Charles Schweppe said the panel believed it didn’t have the evidence to reach a verdict.
“We didn’t hear everything we wanted to hear that all of us would be satisfied to give a guilty verdict,” said Schweppe, a patent lawyer. “There just wasn’t enough of a case.”
Prosecutors accuse Slade of misspending more than $138,000 in TSU funds on landscaping for her homes, more than $100,000 in furniture and other home decorations and about $60,000 on a high-tech security system. They say she also illegally used school funds to pay for bar tabs, manicures, spa treatments and exercise classes.
DeGeurin says all his client’s spending was done to improve the school’s status and recruit donors. He accused prosecutors of making her a scapegoat for TSU’s problems.
Quintin Wiggins, described as Slade’s “yes man” and accomplice by prosecutors, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May for his part in the misspending.
Two other TSU workers were indicted in the spending scandal. Charges have been dropped against one, and the other’s trial is pending.
The allegations against Slade coincided with reports that revealed a pattern of financial mismanagement at TSU and prompted Gov. Rick Perry to call for a state takeover of the university that was later put on hold. The nine-member board of regents resigned at Perry’s request.
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