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Juror appointment delays verdict reading in New York bus crash trial

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A jury reached a verdict on Thursday in the manslaughter trial of bus driver Ophadell Williams, charged in the deadly Bronx crash that killed 15 people, but in a highly unusual move he will not learn his fate until Friday.

In a decision that lawyers for both sides called unprecedented in their long careers, Judge Troy Webber in State Supreme Court in the Bronx borough of New York City ordered an overnight delay in revealing the verdict because of a juror scheduling conflict.

This was the second week of deliberations by the jury, which weighed 54 counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault, reckless and unlicensed driving charges against Williams, 41, of Brooklyn.

The horrific predawn crash on Interstate 95 in March 2011 triggered a federal and state crackdown on bus operators, including proposals to fit vehicles with speed-limiting devices and to require companies to get 10 years of driving records from potential employees.

Prosecutors said that Williams, whose driving record included 18 suspensions over two decades, was overly tired when his speeding bus hit a guardrail, flipped onto its side and skidded into a highway sign support pole, sheering off the roof. Of 32 passengers, 15 died and 15 were injured, some severely.

The bus was returning passengers to Chinatown after a night of gambling at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.

Williams's lengthy trial, which was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy, was followed by drawn out jury deliberations that were marked by juror absences and other scheduling glitches.

The jury reached a verdict on Thursday afternoon at about the same time one juror had an appointment, leaving too little time for the 54-count verdict sheet to be read. The judge ordered the verdict sealed until Friday morning, when it will be read by the jury.

The delay in hearing his fate left Williams "very, very frustrated," said defense lawyer Patrick Bruno.

"For a moment he was pleased there was a verdict finally, but now he's quite stressed," said Bruno of his client, who will be returning to the city jail on Riker's Island for at least one more night.

Both Bruno, a lawyer for 33 years, and the lead prosecutor on the case, assistant Bronx district attorney Gary Weil, a lawyer for 34 years, said they had never before seen such a ruling.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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