Scientology critic's jury hung
by DAVID SOMMER
May 25, 2001
Jurors in a misdemeanor marijuana case were unable to reach a verdict
Thursday night on whether a prominent Church of Scientology critic had an
illegal plant growing in his back yard.
"Everyone thinks he was set up," a juror said of defendant Jesse Prince.
The man did not want to be identified.
Juror Tiffany Scurlock said the evidence showed Prince had marijuana
growing in his Largo home. But Scurlock said she had a hard time with the
church's involvement in the case. Private detectives working for the
church shadowed Prince for months before succeeding in having him charged
by Largo police with growing a marijuana plant on his deck.
"It has a lot to do with entrapment," Scurlock said. "I felt the Church of
Scientology had a lot to do with setting him up. I felt he was guilty ...
but there was a lot of setting up going on."
Mike Rinder, a member of Scientology's board of directors, said the church
wants Prince exposed as a drug user because Prince repeatedly has
testified against the church in court cases.
A former high-ranking church official turned church critic, Prince is
listed as an expert witness on church doctrine in a pending civil lawsuit
over the 1995 death of church member Lisa McPherson.
"Anybody who actually didn't have the drugs would have been acquitted,"
Rinder said. "Jesse Prince is a drug user, the state attorney knows he is
a drug user, he's going to be tried again and we are very happy about
The jury, which deliberated five hours, was split 4-2 in favor of
acquittal, and at one point only one juror was holding out for a guilty
verdict, said the male juror who asked to remain anonymous.
The juror said no one on the panel believed the testimony of a private
detective hired by the church to befriend Prince and gain entry into his
home. It was that detective who turned informant and helped Largo police
Other jurors declined to comment.
Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews declared a mistrial and said a new
trial date will be set at a future hearing. But Assistant State Attorney
Lydia Wardell, who prosecuted the case, said it is too soon to say if her
office will try again to convict Prince.
David Sommer can be reached at (727) 799-7413.