The GSA was incorrectly referred to in Mary McGrory's column Sunday as the Government Services Administration. It is the General Services Administration.
THE CASE we ladies of the District Court jury had before us looked like an open and shut case of bribery. The defendant, Korean-born Chang-kung Sung, a small man with the face of a warrior in an Oriental print, had, no question about it, given $3,000 to a representative of the Government Services Administration. He wanted to lease two of GSA's vacant rooms next to his downtown newsstand. He had been using them anyway for a year or more. Nobody seemed to mind.
Sung was caught handing over the money, because the GSA woman, after Sung first tried to give it to her, told her boss, who told the inspector general, who told the FBI, who wired Emily Brinkley for sound and sent her out collect the envelope. It was all on tape.
The first surprise in the jury room where we were at last free to discuss the case was when our foreperson, a ladylike volunteer named Ada, went around the table for general impressions. I had thought that Brinkley, who, like nine of our jurors, was black, might have some admirers, for her good job, for her rectitude -- she was "shocked" when Sung offered her "a gift." I was dead wrong.
Said Vivian, who usually smiled, "She set him up. She trapped him." "Probably got promoted for it, too." muttered her neighbor.
Marlene from the Post Office said disapprovingly, "She didn't help him. She could have showed him how to fill out the forms. Then we wouldn't be here."
We disposed of the bribery charge in about two hours with one ballot. Not guilty. It looked to some of us as if the government had sent a warship after a minnow.
We still had the second "lesser, included charge" of gratuity to a government employe, and it was there that we ran into trouble.
We told ourselves not to be sorry for an underdog, to forget that Sung had broken down and cried for shame on the stand. We reminded ourselves of Judge Barrington Parker's charge to limit ourselves to what we had seen and heard -- he was our hero, asked by far the best questions, showed flashes of sardonic humor.
The first ballot produced one "guilty." We looked at each other. Who? Finally, one of our two grandmothers, Cora, spoke up. "It was I."
She didn't want to talk about it. Ada said firmly, "Cora, you have to tell us why. Maybe you will convince us."
Cora had a pleasant square face and kind eyes, which narrowed when she made a point. "I feel like he is guilty," she said. We zeroed in on the question of whether or not Sung knew that Emily Brinkley was a civil servant. Asked on the stand, he said, in his minimal English, "GSA, I don't know what is doing."
Cora felt that Sung had to know that Brinkley worked for the government, although in her testimony she had never said so.
"I feel like he knew from the number he called," she said. Sung had twice called the GSA to offer Brinkley a "Christmas gift."
Now, Cora, said Ada, "I'm a telephone supervisor and I can tell you that the first three digits can mean government or private."
But he had her card, said Cora.
Esther, a small woman who worked for the Bureau of Mines, came through on that one. "She said she might have given him her card, and we never saw it."
But Cora could not be moved. "I feel like he gave her the money so she would lease him the space."
But, we all reminded her, Sung's most damaging admission, which Brinkley testified to -- "That's for holding the space" -- was not audible on the tape at the time the FBI pounced. We played it three times.
Cypriana, our former Playboy bunny girl, exhibited a certain impatience with our holdout. She had a tilted nose, elegant skin and a delicious low, laugh. "Somebody explain to her about good faith," she said a shade imperiously. Cora bristled. "I know what good faith means."
It was 6:15 and we were faced with the awful prospect of a hung jury. Ada composed a note to the judge, and Cora, who seemed to feel she had committed a social error, said, "Give me back my ballot, I'll change it."
We all landed on her. "If you do that, Cora," I said, "I'll tell the judge." Judge Parker mercifully excused us for the night.
The next morning, we had an early ballot. The one guilty vote fell like an ice pick.
Cypriana spoke up. She said she felt that Cora didn't like her and she apologized handsomely for any offense she might have given. Cora said she had no special like or dislike for anyone, and we resumed in a better spirit.
It was Barbara, our blonde, chatty, ex-schoolteacher who broke the deadlock. She was sitting next to Cora, and she walked her through it, step by step. Four elements were needed for conviction. If any one of the four is missing, it all falls. Any element of "a reasonable doubt" on any point cancels the verdict. Cora agreed she had a "reasonable doubt."
Finally she said humbly, "I didn't know you had to have all four."
We held our breaths. "Well, then, that's it," she breathed, and Ada had the ballots around the table.
We sent out word we had a verdict. While we were waiting, Ada said a little tentatively, "Maybe it was easier without any men." There was a slight pause, and then we went at it. The absence of the male ego accounted for our triumph.
Jubilantly, we trooped back into the courtroom. We gave our verdict. Sung broke down again and the judge made a lovely speech in which he bade Sung to understand that he had participated in a process that makes "this country what it is today."
We ladies of the jury were misty-eyed. For years I have been ducking jury duty. Now I think it's right up there with the town meeting as one of the great experiences in a democracy.