A Bahamian Supreme Court judge ordered a retrial late on Wednesday in the case of two people accused of trying to extort $25 million from Hollywood actor John Travolta.
Supreme Court Justice Anita Allen declared a mistrial in the case after a Bahamian politician prematurely announced at his party's annual convention, which was being covered on live television and radio, that the two accused had been cleared.
Allen did not set a date for a new trial.
Pleasant Bridgewater, a former member of the Bahamian Senate, and ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne had been accused of attempting to extort $25 million from Travolta following the death of his son, Jett, in January.
The defendants were alleged to have threatened to give the media a document Travolta had signed, releasing the ambulance driver and his colleagues from any liability for Jett's death after Travolta decided to try to fly his son to Florida for treatment rather than have him taken to a Freeport hospital.
The political convention at which the premature announcement was made was being staged by the Progressive Liberal Party, one of the two main Bahamian political parties. Bridgewater is a member of that party.
An autopsy determined Jett Travolta died of a seizure during a family vacation at the Old Bahama Bay Resort.
Travolta testified during the five-week trial that he had tried frantically to save his son by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while another visitor at the resort helped with chest compressions and used a defibrillator on Jett, who had been found unresponsive on a bathroom floor.
Travolta testified he was told that unless he paid $25 million, the document would be sold to the news media and used to generate stories suggesting he was at fault in his son's death. Jett was autistic and suffered frequent seizures, Travolta testified.
Lightbourne and Bridgewater were accused of conspiracy and attempting to extort money from Travolta by means of threats, charges that carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Bridgewater was also accused of abetting extortion.
Picewell Forbes, a Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) member of parliament, whipped hundreds of supporters attending his party's annual convention into a frenzy after announcing on Wednesday night that Pleasant is a free woman, PLPs! God is good, PLPs! Pleasant is a free woman! God still reigns PLPs!
The party's convention burst into an impromptu dance to the song, Oh Happy Day, following Forbes' statement.
The nine-member jury began deliberations on Wednesday. Twenty minutes before the judge declared a mistrial, the jury foreman indicated jurors needed more time to reach a verdict.
In dismissing them, Allen, the senior justice, expressed concern over possible jury misconduct and whether there had been a premature communication from the jury room.
We are very concerned in the interest of justice that it does not appear that there has been a communication from the jury room. Justice must not only be done, but seen to be done, she told the jury.
I am very, very reluctant to discharge you, but in the interest of justice, having heard the views of counsel, we are concerned, she said. It leaves the impression that there may have been a communication from the jury room. I am not going to ask if there was or not.
Michael Ossi, one of Travolta's attorneys, said he was happy with the retrial decision.
Asked if Travolta would return to testify at the retrial, he said, We are fully cooperating with the prosecution. ... We are committed to seeing this through. ... Whatever the prosecution asks us to do is exactly what we will do.