Million-dollar trial aborted on account of sudoku

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A sudoku puzzle.
Image: Tim Stellmach.

A drug trial in Sydney, Australia was aborted yesterday after several jurors were found to be playing sudoku puzzles during proceedings.

The Crown trial, in which Andrew Daniel Lonsdale and Kane Holland were accused of conspiracy to manufacture a commercial quantity of amphetamines, had been running for over three months, involved 105 witnesses and cost over A$1 million, and was scheduled to end soon with both parties prepared to deliver final statements this week.

While giving evidence last week, Lonsdale noticed the jury forewoman apparently writing notes vertically rather than horizontally, in the manner of someone solving a sudoku. The co-accused, Holland, made the same observation, and their defence counsel lodged an appeal to the judge. Yesterday, the forewoman gave unsworn evidence to the judge confirming that she and several other jurors had been filling out the puzzles since the second week of the trial, comparing solutions during meal breaks. She claimed it helped them concentrate on the proceedings.

"It helps me keep my mind busy, and pay more attention," she said in her defence.

Judge Peter Zahra of the Sydney District Court had earlier lauded the jury's apparent attentiveness and diligence, but following the revelation, he told the forewoman that she and her fellow sudoku players had let down everyone involved in the trial. The jury was discharged, but no penalty will be given to the sudoku players. The New South Wales sheriff's office will update its guidelines to instruct jurors not to play games during proceedings, and the co-accused will be facing a new trial at a later date.