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Colorful closing arguments in election fraud trial of Ehrlich consultant

Political consultant Julius Henson's attorney used a stack of fake oversized money, invoked slavery and called prosecutors' election fraud case against his client a "bunch of bull-honky" during his closing argument Wednesday afternoon.

Using props, charts and a blend of humor and outrage, Edward Smith Jr. talked to the jury for an hour, shifting his style between folksy and erudite. He quoted lyrics from the song "Backstabbers" by the O'Jays, showed jurors a photo of what he called a "twisted" man meant to represent the prosecution, and recommended that the deputy state prosecutor "just walk out the door right now" rather than present his arguments.

"What they're trying to do is criminalize something they don't understand," Smith said.

Smith's style stood in stark contrast to the state prosecutors, who were understated — and told to speak up by the judge — as they asked the jury to focus on the language of a 2010 Election Day robocall they say attempted to trick black voters into staying home from the polls.

"I'm not the showman Mr. Smith is," Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough said.

Henson, 63, of East Baltimore has blamed the robocall on a top campaign aide to Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Paul Schurick, who he said called him and authorized the call while Henson was eating at a McDonald's with his granddaughter.

The jury of five black men, five black women and two white men will continue deliberations in the case Thursday morning.

Henson said he wrote the text for the call in three minutes on a McDonald's napkin and that Schurick approved its contents but told him to leave off a campaign authority line. The automated call suggested that registered Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County "relax" and stay home. It implied that Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, had already won his race against Ehrlich, a Republican, even though the polls were still open.

But McDonough told jurors that placing all the blame on Schurick was not a legitimate defense for Henson.

"'The devil made me do it' doesn't get you out of responsibility for what you did," McDonough said.

Prosecutors told the jury it's the deception in the call that makes it fraudulent and therefore illegal.

"Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took it back," the call stated, in part.

Smith has suggested that his client is being prosecuted by the state's Democratic establishment only because he dared to work for Republicans. During closing arguments, Smith repeatedly emphasized that the FBI had raided Henson's home and the home of Henson employee Rhonda Russell — whose voice was featured on the robocall — but had not done the same for top Ehrlich campaign workers or the campaign headquarters.

He called members of the media "vultures" intent on showing a "perp walk" of Henson after state police and FBI agents searched his home. He showed jurors a stack of fake, oversized money and said prosecutors wanted them to "convict [Henson's] butt" because he was paid well during the campaign. He also compared the prosecutorial discretion used in the case to the enforcement of fugitive slave laws.

Smith argued that the call was meant to be "counterintuitive" — an attempt at reverse psychology that would encourage voters to go to the polls for Ehrlich. Russell testified during the trial that she sent the call only to Democrats, though she said she did so because she was in a hurry and adding Republicans to the list of call recipients could have taken 20 or 30 minutes.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt urged jurors not to fall for that line of argument, which he likened to saying "hot means cold and day means night."

"That is a ridiculous assertion," Davitt said. "It may have been all Mr. Henson could come up with, but it's still a ridiculous assertion."

Schurick, who also argued that the call was designed to be "counterintuitive," was convicted of four charges in December. He was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, 500 hours of community service and four years of probation. The Ehrlich campaign paid Henson $16,000 a month — for a total of $112,000 — and promised a bonus of $30,000 should Ehrlich win. Ehrlich has said he knew nothing of the call.

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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