Jury chooses compassion over punishment

The Boone, North Carolina trial of college student Stephen Paul Becker, 22, who was charged with maintaining a dwelling that was used for keeping drugs, may be unique in the nation's legal history. Becker was acquitted and received counseling­­on the spot and from the jurors themselves.

Becker was charged with receiving a UPS package that was intercepted by the Watauga County Sheriff's Office after a clerk noticed the odor of marijuana. Prosecutors say that investigators found 2 1/2 pounds of marijuna inside, then resealed the package for delivery.

After several hours of deliberations, the jury appeared to be deadlocked. Eight of the jurors were for acquittal. Then Keith Honeycutt, one of the four in favor of a guilty verdict, suddenly said: "I've been given second chances in my life. Maybe he should get one, too."

The other three holdouts, including forewoman Sandy Davis, agreed. Davis told Becker's attorney, Scott Casey, after the trial, ''The Lord Jesus came into the jury room and showed us the way to change our votes.''

The Judge, Casey, the prosecutor and other lawyers sitting in the courtroom were taken aback. Casey told reporters that Becker welcomed the chance to tell the jurors his side of the story. Becker spent 15 minutes with the jurors. Juror Cynthia Ericksen described it as a "wonderful" experience to the local media.

"We talked to him about how we felt. . . . He was very open and very nice. One juror even gave him his work phone number and told him to call it if he needed anything," Ericksen said.

"We kind of took ownership of him. Everyone gave him a big hug and shook his hand. I know juries are all about law and breaking the law, but we bonded. For us this experience was all about love­­I know that sounds silly, but it is true."