Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig was acquitted by a jury of gambling charges yesterday, the second time in two months that the prosecutor has been cleared of bingo-related felony alegatons.
Moments before Deputy Alexandria Circuit Court Clerk John Seaman read the verdict, Cowhig 53, confidently looked at a reporter and winked.
When asked for comment after the trial, Cowhig held out his two hands and said, "just these," opening his fists to reveal two rosaries.
Cowihig, the first incumbent Virginia prosecutor to be indicted, is scheduled to stand trial sgain on March 5. In that case he is charged with conducting an illegal gambling operation by running bingo games on behalf of an Explorer Scout troop he set up.
Special prosecutor Edward J. White declined comment after the verdict yesterday.
One juror, who asked not to be indentified, said of the verdict, "The prosecution did not have positive proof of the alleged crime. None of us felt good about the acquittal. We didn't think he conducted himself as a public official should conduct himself, he didn't live up to very high standards.He knew about the illegalities.
"We questioned the credibility of the witnesses, but the main point was that the prosecutor didn't really prove he [Cowhig] was involved with the main charge."
The jurors took seven votes before reaching a unanimous verdict, the juror said. "There was a lot of dissension. On the first vote the majority was leaning to convict, with serveral undecided votes. However, we stayed very close to the specific charge in the indictment and the prosecution just did not have positive proof of its case."
Chief defense attorney, Blair Lee Howard, said yesterday that he would confer with Cowhig on whether Howard and cocounsel James C. Clark would represent Cowhig in the March trial.
"I'm very pleased and happy," said Howard of the verdict. "This was a tremendouw emotional burden on him and his witnesses was the major factor and after the jury considered all the evidence they boted to acquit."
Alexandria Bar Association President Roger Amole, who called for Cowhig to resign last month despite his acquittal on bingo-related bribery charges, yesterday declined to comment except to express pleasure for Cowhig and his family.
After the verdict, Circuit Court Judge Percy Thornton strongly urged the eight women and four men of the jury not to talk to reporters.
Before the start of the trial, Thornton orfered all documents submitted in pretrial motions to be sealed from public inspection. Documents introduced as evidence during the trial also were dept from reporters at the judge's order.
The jury took slightly more than seven hours starting Wednesday afternoon and ending yesterday morning before knocking on the oak door to the jury room at 12:34 p.m. to inform officials that they had reached a verdict.
Cowhig, who did not take the stand in his own defense, was accused of organizing and helping to run an illegal gambling operation from March 1 to Sept. 1, 1977, at 4603 Duke St. in the name of B & J Specialties Inc. If convicted, he could have received as much as five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Judge Thornton instructed the jury on Wednesday that the B & J games were illegal under terms of Virginia's bingo law, a ruling viewed as a break for the prosecution.
The case turned on whether Cowhig had been an "operator" of the illegal games, and defense attorneys emotionally questioned the credibility of the witnesses who tried to link Cowhig to the operation.
Robert B. Hinkle, who was granted immunity from prosecution, testified that Cowhig had told him he, Hinkle, would be the manager of the game. Allen Palmore, a former manager of the Duke Street bingo hall, testified that he had once given Cowhig an envelope stuffed with between $1,000 and $2,000 in cash.
Defense attorney Howard attacked the truthfulness of both men, telling the jury in his closing argument that they had "set up" Cowhig in order to protect themselves. Hinkle and Palmore both admitted on the witness stand they had lied to police during the initial investigation.
Half a dozen other prosecution witnesses placed Cowhig at the bingo parlor on numerous occasions, but none tied him to the actual operation of the games. Howard argued that Cowhig had been present in an official capacity.
Howard won a technical victory when Judge Thornton agreed to instrut the jurors to view the testimony by Hinkle and Palmore "with caution."
In Cowhig's first trial, on charges that he asked for and received $32 000 in bribes from the operator of bingo games sponsored by the Montessori School of Alexandria Inc., defense attorneys also successfully attacked the crediblity of chief prosecution witne Dirgham Salahi, who had receved immunity from prosecution.