Not all 12 jurors were ready to acquit Maryland Sen. Ulysses Currie on bribery and other charges when deliberations began, and at times things got pretty heated. But in the end, the group agreed that prosecutors had fallen short of proving a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt.
That account was provided late Tuesday night by Seth Binfield, Juror No. 12 in the federal case against Currie (D-Prince George’s) and two grocery chain executives.
“It’s almost like the evidence was a foot, and this shoe didn’t fit quite right,” Binfield, 28, an engineer who lives in College Park, said several hours after the verdict in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Binfield and his fellow jurors sat through six weeks of testimony in which prosecutors sought to prove that Currie and executives from Shoppers Food Warehouse conspired to use his Senate office to do a series of favors for the grocery chain, including advocating for traffic-light requests, a liquor license transfer and some development deals.
Binfield said all jurors were convinced Currie’s actions raised some ethical questions. The senator’s lawyers characterized Currie’s work as a legitimate consulting arrangement but acknowledged there had been some conflicts of interests at times.
Ultimately, Binfield said, it wasn’t clear to jurors that Currie and the two grocery executives were guilty of the crimes with which they had been charged, including bribery, extortion, conspiracy and making false statements to the FBI.
Binfield said he kept an open mind throughout the testimony. What proved pivotal, he said, were the lengthy instructions given by the judge at the end of the case that explained the necessary elements for a conviction on each alleged crime. When he and other jurors began measuring the evidence against those standards, he said, it became clear the prosecution had fallen short.
“There was a bar to be set, and the prosecution could only get maybe half way,” Binfield said. “In the end, I think we made the right decision.”
Binfield said he and other jurors talked some about the parade of character witnesses put on by the defense, including several high-profile politicians who praised Currie’s honesty and integrity.
In the end, that testimony “probably made pretty little difference,” Binfield said.
Deliberations began late Thursday afternoon. Most of that was spent re-reading the judge’s instructions and other documents, Binfield said.
“Over half of us, right off the bat, were leaning toward ‘there’s not enough here,’” he said.
The discussions on Friday and Monday were not very focused and jumped around a good deal. It was not until Tuesday that the jury went methodically through the 10-count indictment and reached decisions, Binfield said.
On Monday, most courtroom observers were thrown by a note the jury sent to the judge about the conspiracy charge. It asked if the jury could convict on that charge if a conspiracy started as much as two years later than prosecutors alleged. Lawyers spent the better part of an hour arguing over what the judge should tell the jury.
Binfield said the question was not an indication that the jury was leaning in that direction — and the group didn’t realize it would be read in open court.
“It was in some ways almost a technicality,” he said.