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Jury deliberated 11 hours in first Brown's trial
By Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/29/2009 12:04 AM

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A jury that decided the fate of the first man tried for the Brown's Chicken murders deliberated 11 hours over two days before convicting him.

Juan Luna's 14-day trial concluded on May 9, 2007, with lengthy closing arguments. The panel discussed the case for less than three hours that afternoon and then retired for the night, sequestered at a hotel.

Surprising news awaited the jury as it reconvened at 9 a.m. the following morning when Judge Vincent Gaughan announced the dismissal of a 25-year-old male juror who made a habit of dozing off.

Deliberations started over, and this time they took about eight hours. Around 6:30 p.m. that evening, as the victims' families clasped hands and held their breath, the court clerk read seven guilty first-degree murder findings.

Sobs reverberated throughout the Chicago courtroom and Luna's mother broke down in a panic attack that required medical attention when court was adjourned. Observers received an earlier warning to maintain their composure upon the verdict's reading, and deputies stood ready to arrest anyone who acted out.

After a three-day weekend and much-needed respite from the emotional trial, the jury returned at 9 a.m. Monday to decide whether Luna was eligible for the death penalty. In the eligibility phase, at least one of 20 so-called aggravating factors must be met. The group agreed on two - that the slayings included multiple murders and occurred during an armed robbery.

As they deliberated, a candlelight vigil opposing capital punishment took place outside the courthouse featuring the family of 16-year-old victim Michael Castro standing united with the Lunas. The Ehlenfeldts also stood in the wings of the news conference.

Though it's not uncommon for juries to come back within 30 minutes with a decision, this jury took 51/2 hours over two days to say Luna was indeed eligible for the death penalty.

The duration of those deliberations foreshadowed the jury's next move. One juror, a young mother from Chicago, was the lone holdout in an 11-1 vote in favor of executing Luna. Her vote spared Luna's life.