NASSAU (Reuters) - The Bahamian lawmaker who caused a mistrial in the John Travolta extortion case escaped a contempt of court citation on Thursday when the judge ruled that his public vilification was punishment enough.
Picewell Forbes, a member of parliament, mistakenly announced at a convention of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) on October 21 that two Bahamian defendants accused of trying to extort $25 million from the American actor had been acquitted.
In fact, the jury was still deliberating and had not reached a verdict. Supreme Court Justice Anita Allen declared a mistrial on grounds that Forbes’ announcement gave the impression there had been an improper communication from the jury room.
At a hearing on Thursday, the judge said Forbes showed “a dangerous lack of appreciation” for the integrity of the justice system and that she had considered punishing him with a fine or jail sentence.
But she said he had taken responsibility for his actions by issuing a public apology and had been punished enough.
“I believe you have suffered greatly, you have been vilified throughout this nation and, indeed, the world,” she told Forbes.
One of the defendants, attorney Pleasant Bridgewater, is a PLP member and former member of Parliament. Forbes’ erroneous announcement that she had been acquitted set off a joyful celebration at the political party’s convention.
Forbes later said in his apology that he had recklessly repeated a rumor without bothering to verify it.
Bridgewater and her co-defendant, former ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne, were charged with attempting to extort $25 million from Travolta over the death of his son, Jett, at a Bahamian resort in January.
They were accused of threatening to give the media information suggesting the actor was at fault in his son’s death, unless Travolta paid up. An autopsy found that Jett Travolta had died of a seizure and Travolta testified he and others had frantically tried to save the boy.
Bridgewater and Lightbourne had pleaded not guilty and a new trial is expected next year.
Editing by Jane Sutton and Bill Trott