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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Travolta Extortion Trial - Mistrial

Mistrial in Travolta Extortion Trial

The judge presiding over the Travolta Extortion trial in Nassau Bahama's has declared a mistrial in the case against Paramedic Tarino Lightbourn and former Bahamian Sen. Pleasant Bridgewater.

The trial resulted from an apparent attempt to extort millions from actor John Travolta after the death of his 16-year-old son, Jett. The reported extortion attempt occured after Jett Travolta suffered a seizure on January 2 at the family's vacation home on the island of Grand Bahamas. Paramedic Tarino Lightbourn and former Bahamian Sen. Pleasant Bridgewater and Tarino Lightbourn, allegedly attempted to extort $25 million from the Travolta family in order to not make public a medical document, declining to have Jett transported to a nearby hospital.

In her mistrial judgement, Judge Anita Allen thought someone in the jury had had inappropriate communications outside of the jury room. Apparently Judge Anita Allen received information that an announcement had been made at a local political rally indicating one of the defendants had been found not guilty.

Although there was ni indication of any sort of verdict when jury foreman said the jurors needed more time to deliberate, Allen opted to discharge the jury. In her statement, Judge Allen said "About two hours ago, there was an announcement at a particular political party... It leaves the impression that there may have been a communication in the jury room. I am going to discharge you from returning your verdict." Allen then ordered a retrial.

Speaking about the mistrial judgement, Travolta's lawyer Michael Ossi said "We would have liked to have had a verdict so there would be closure in this case, but we prefer to have a new trial. We believe the evidence was very strong and convincing. The jury was deliberating for about eight hours. ... If, in fact, Tarino Lightbourn or Pleasant Bridgewater were found not guilty, a verdict would have been read hours before this announcement."

Tarino Lightbourn's lawyer, Carlson Shurland, expressed disappointment over the judge's mistrial ruling, saying the case has been a "financial nightmare." He continued, "Unfortunately, after a lot of expenses, I'm very, very disappointed. I'm confident that we would have had a favorable verdict."

Earlier in the trial, Travolta had testified that his son was found unresponsive by a nanny. Travolta said he initially told the ambulance driver to rush them to an airport where his private jet was parked. Travolta, who is a pilot, planned to fly his son to a West Palm Beach, Florida, hospital instead of driving him to one in nearby Freeport. John Travolta testified that while he and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, were riding in the ambulance with their son, they decided to take the teen to the hospital, instead of flying to Florida.

At the hospital, Travolta was told his son "wasn't alive," he said. As a result of his request to circumvent the hospital, Tarino Lightbourn asked Travolta to sign a statement releasing the ambulance company from liability. "I received a liability of release document. I signed it. I did not read it. Time was of the essence," Travolta testified.

Travolta further went on to say he later learned about a demand for $25 million. If he didn't pay, "stories connected to that document would be sold to the press. The stories would imply the death of my son was intentional and I was culpable somehow."

An attorney representing Bridgewater and Lightbourn asked Travolta whether the defendants had ever contacted or threatened him directly. Travolta said they had not and that he had heard specifics about the situation through his attorneys. Travolta's attorney, Michael McDermott, testified Bridgewater had told him the "document would show [Travolta] killed his son or was negligent in the death of his son." In addition, McDermott told the court Bridgewater had claimed the form was evidence Travolta was "trying to flee the country with his dead son." "I said to Mrs. Bridgewater, 'What you are doing is a criminal offense -- it's extortion in the United States,'" McDermott testified. McDermott said he contacted authorities and later met with Bridgewater in a Nassau hotel room for a conversation secretly recorded by Bahamian police. The price for keeping the document under wraps was dropped through subsequent phone conversations. McDermott said it went from $25 million to $10 million.

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