March 22, 2008 in City

After reaching verdict in deadly crash, juror sends flowers to Helm

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The leader of the jury that acquitted Clifford Helm of vehicular homicide charges last week bought him a bouquet of spring flowers following the high-profile Spokane County Superior Court trial and had them delivered by a Deer Park florist.

Rebecca Backstrom, who served as the presiding juror in the three-week trial, confirmed that she sent the modest arrangement to Helms’ Deer Park home as a “goodwill gesture” after an emotional trial but reacted angrily to being questioned about it by The Spokesman-Review.

“People need to mind their own business,” Backstrom, a 35-year-old Spokane student, said in an interview.

“The trial was over when I did it,” she said of the gift. “I have no connection to the Helm family. I didn’t do anything inappropriate before, during or after the trial. I am not a bad person or an unethical person.”

Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said Friday that Backstrom’s bouquet doesn’t constitute jury misconduct because the trial was over.

“Jury misconduct usually happens during the trial or during deliberations, but after it’s over with, they can do as they please,” Tucker said.

Killed in the Nov. 1, 2005, accident were five children of Jeffrey and Carolyn Schrock: Carmen, 12; Jana, 10; Carinna, 8; Jerryl, 4; and Craig, 2. Jeffrey Schrock and Helm were seriously injured in the head-on crash on Highway 395 but have recovered.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict on vehicular homicide and vehicular assault charges March 14.

Backstrom said she also would have sent flowers to the Schrock family if she’d known how to reach them at their Mennonite church mission in Belize. The Schrocks returned to Spokane from Belize to testify at Helm’s trial.

Backstrom said she didn’t discuss her decision to send the flowers with any other jurors and acted after she’d been discharged from jury duty.

Dan Hurtzler, a spokesman for the Pine Grove Mennonite fellowship that included the Schrock family, said he hadn’t heard about Backstrom’s gift.

A worker at Melo’s D Flowers, the Deer Park flower shop that filled Backstrom’s order, said the Helm trial had polarized the small community north of Spokane. Backstrom’s bouquet to the Helms “caused a furor here. It was a problem for us, but we delivered it,” the worker said, asking that her name not be used.

In an interview Friday, Spokane County Superior Court Presiding Judge Maryann C. Moreno agreed to speak generally about court rules for jurors without addressing the Helm case specifically.

A case of juror misconduct can only be made if the judge presiding over a case rules that a juror’s action is prejudicial to a defendant, Moreno said.

“After the fact, the jury is discharged. They are released from our instructions and can discuss the case as they see fit. We tell them they are free to do what they like,” she said. But Moreno said Backstrom’s gesture was unusual. “I’ve never had a case where I’ve heard of this happening,” she said.

One of Backstrom’s fellow jurors reacted with disbelief when informed of Backstrom’s gift.

“You’re kidding me,” she said. “Wow. If I was going to send any flowers, it wouldn’t be to them,” she added. The juror, one of four who had leaned toward convicting Helm in the early rounds of deliberations, asked that her name not be used.


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