Judge orders retrial in Travolta extortion case
NASSAU, Bahamas - The trial of two people accused of trying to extort John Travolta following the death of his son in the Bahamas has ended in a mistrial after a lawmaker suggested the still-deliberating jury had acquitted one of the defendants.
Senior Justice Anita Allen said she was reluctantly ordering a new trial "in the interest of justice" because the politician’s statement, in a speech broadcast on television and radio, gave the appearance of an improper leak from the jury room.
"The dilemma that we face is great," Allen told the court. "I am erring on the side of caution. Justice must be transparent."
Ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne and his attorney, politician Pleasant Bridgewater, were accused of threatening to release private information about the January death of Travolta’s 16-year-old son Jett at the family vacation home in Grand Bahama.
Lightbourne, who was among the medics who treated Jett, allegedly sought $25 million from the actor with the assistance of Bridgewater, who resigned her seat in the Bahamas Senate after she was charged in the case.
Jurors were still deliberating when lawmaker Picewell Forbes told an audience at a Progressive Liberal Party convention that Bridgewater was "a free woman." He did not go into details.
Immediately afterward, Alex Storr, the party’s deputy chairman-elect, said Forbes had misspoken. He said the information was incorrect and no verdict had been issued. He apologized on behalf of the party.
But the judge said that Forbes’ comment gave her no choice but to dismiss the jurors. She did not set a new trial date.
The jury, which deliberated about nine hours, had spent a month listening to testimony including from Travolta, who flew to the Bahamas to take the stand. Michael Ossi, one of the actor’s attorneys, said his client would cooperate in any way possible and testify again if necessary.
"We are committed to seeing this through, and we are committed to seeing justice served," Ossi said. "And whatever the prosecution asks us to do is exactly what we will do."
Howard Butler, a Florida-based lawyer for Travolta, referred further questions to a publicist who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In closing statements, lawyers for the defendants, who denied the allegations, told the nine-member jury that their clients were set up by lawyers for Travolta. They also said authorities misinterpreted their actions.
The alleged plot centered on a document that would have released emergency responders from liability if the family refused an ambulance ride to the hospital for Jett, who suffered a deadly seizure at a family vacation home on Grand Bahama island on Jan. 2.
Travolta said he signed the waiver because he initially wanted his autistic son flown directly to Florida for treatment. But he later changed his mind, and the document did not come into play.
The actor testified that Lightbourne threatened to sell stories to the media suggesting that he was at fault in his son’s death.