Accusations that defense witnesses lied under oath and that prosecutors abused power flew around an Anne Arundel County courtroom Monday as closing arguments turned personal in the week-old trial of Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George’s) on charges of theft and misconduct in office.
Jurors deliberated for more than three hours but went home shortly after 6 p.m. without reaching a verdict. They are scheduled to resume discussions on Tuesday morning.
Before the jury got the case, Shelly S. Glenn of the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office suggested that every defense witness had at best parsed words, and at worst lied under oath to protect Alston as a friend or employer.
Glenn also charged that Alston’s defense team had been “dishonest,” “totally disingenuous,” played a “smoke and mirror” game and tried to run a “big hoax” on jurors by selectively quoting grand jury testimony and leading witnesses to answer questions that distorted the truth about Alston’s alleged crimes.
The freshmen lawmaker is accused of stealing $800 in General Assembly funds to pay an employee to help manage her financially strapped law practice in Lanham. Prosecutors say Alston knowingly sought to deceive the state by signing documents attesting that the woman, Rayshawn Ford, was conducting official state business when she was actually working as a $10-an-hour employee in Alston’s law office.
“The only thing you have to decide here is did Rayshawn Ford work for Attorney Tiffany Alston, or Delegate Tiffany Alston?” Glenn told jurors, urging them not to get distracted by other arguments by the defense.
“This is simple stuff,” Glenn said, “kind of a no brainer.”
The prosecution’s hard-edged closing brought an equally sharp rebuke by a member of Alston’s defense team, attorney Raouf Abdullah.
“The state simply is unable to provide evidence on the charges presented,” Abdullah said.
He charged that the state’s assertion that witnesses lied was no more than “hearsay.” He suggested that state investigators may themselves be lying to protect their jobs and a much sought-after conviction of Alston, which he characterized as a sloppy attempt to “destroy the reputation” of a sitting lawmaker.
If defense witnesses had a reason to lie, state investigators “have a larger incentive to lie,” Abdullah said. “This is a hypocritical double-standard … an abuse of prosecutor power.”
The early back-and-forth centered largely on competing attempts to explain why Ford changed her story on the stand about the alleged misuse of state funds. Investigators say Ford initially told them she had been working in Alston’s law office and offered up that she was being paid with state funds.
Defense lawyers contend that prosecutors failed to ask the right questions to ascertain that Ford was doing legislative work for Alston from an office at her law firm. Alston contends she set up a district office for legislative affairs at her law firm.