By Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz
Monday, November 23, 2009
Jurors deciding whether to convict Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon of theft-related charges will return Monday for a third day of debate.
Lawyers in the case sounded unconcerned about reported contention among jurors who have been working in a small room for a total of 11 hours, and legal observers keeping tabs on the proceedings said the panel seemed to be taking its responsibilities seriously.
"Those who predicted a swift acquittal or conviction have been proven wrong," said Baltimore Federal Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm. "It gives you faith in the system."
Dixon is accused of stealing about $630 in gift cards that prosecutors say were intended for the needy.
Jurors sent several questions to the judge shortly after starting deliberations Thursday afternoon but appeared to make little progress. "Things are getting a little out of order among us," read a note to the judge from the jury forewoman Thursday.
On Friday evening, the nine women and three men showed little emotion as they sat in the jury box just before the judge dismissed them for the weekend.
State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said he couldn't infer much from the jurors' notes. "Obviously, there are jurors on each side who have strong feelings," he said, adding that it was "too early to tell" whether the case would end in a hung jury. Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas "Mike" McDonough said, "You drive yourself crazy trying to guess."
Dixon's lead attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said the jury is "taking the serious charges to heart." He also said the hours of deliberation show that the jurors are being conscientious.
Kenneth W. Ravenell, a Baltimore defense lawyer not involved in the Dixon case, said the hours of deliberation are "not unusual in a case that involves the mayor of Baltimore City."
"They don't want to be seen as rushing to judgment," he said. "However they come back, they know they're going to be scrutinized."
The mayor is charged with five theft-related counts, including one felony, stemming from a nearly four-year investigation into City Hall corruption that has centered on relationships between public officials and developers who have relied on tax breaks for projects. Dixon can be convicted of no more than three counts, fewer than half the number she faced when the trial began last week.
Under instructions given to the jury, Dixon can be convicted of theft or embezzlement -- but not both -- because those charges are based on two contradictory theories: that Dixon had no right to possess the gift cards and therefore stole them or that Dixon had a right to possess the cards but misused them.
The judge tossed out two of the original seven counts last week, when the state rested its case without calling as a witness Ronald H. Lipscomb, a developer who said he'd given Dixon gift cards for charity.
If found guilty of any of the charges, the 55-year-old Democratic mayor could be forced out of office, lose her $83,000 annual pension and be fined or face jail time.
-- Baltimore Sun