The doors weren't slamming, but Day Six of jury deliberations in Mayor Sheila Dixon's trial ended something like a French farce, with clerks entering and exiting the courtroom bearing crisscrossing notes and resulting in just-missed connections.
Sometimes cliches are true: Timing really is everything.
Just as the judge was sending a response to a jury note, the jurors were sending a second note back to him. Had they just been a little more patient and waited to get the judge's response to Note One before firing off Note Two, we would have had the answer to a very interesting question:
Has the jury reached a decision on any of the five counts against Dixon?
Instead, the jury returns today for more deliberations on the theft-related charges that Dixon faces for using gift cards prosecutors say were intended for the needy, and that question hangs in the air unanswered. Or even asked.
Still, Monday's deliberations, which took place behind closed doors and with no smoke signals to the outside world until the afternoon notes, netted some clues as to where the jury is after about 38 hours of discussions.
It's not soup yet, but something is bubbling in the jury room.
At 3:15 p.m., the jury sent a note saying it couldn't come to a unanimous decision on all counts - leading to the natural question of whether they had come to agreement on any of the other counts. But just as Judge Dennis M. Sweeney was sending that question back to the jury room, the jurors sent another note, saying they felt they needed to continue deliberations for another day, "due to new things brought to light."
Whoa, was the general reaction in the courtroom. But more specifically, the reaction broke down in three ways.
The judge: This jury needs to buckle down and decide already.
The prosecutors: Hmm, looks like there's a chance they've come to some agreements, maybe they're on track to more.
The defense: Mistrial!
As the trial enters its fourth week, Sweeney is displaying some impatience with the jury - or at least its tendency to call it a day by 4 or 4:30 p.m., if not earlier. "We've all been in jury trials where that is not the end of the day," Sweeney told the lawyers as they debated how he should respond to the notes.
Sweeney was ready to tell the jurors to come back today and "be prepared to stay" to "see if we can bring this to some conclusion."
The attorneys, though, told him that would be either premature or coercive - the defense repeatedly has asked for a mistrial, saying the length of deliberations indicates jurors are either confused or feel a time pressure to return a verdict.
While Sweeney has just as repeatedly refused to grant the defense's request, he does seem ready for the jury to commit to something beyond another day of deliberations. While crafting a response to the jurors' note about being unable to reach unanimity on all counts, he suggested asking a more specific question.
"The other question is - if I ask them the question, have you reached a unanimous decision on any count or counts - should I go on and ask, if so which counts?" Sweeney said.
Lawyers nixed going beyond the first question, and, in the end, no question at all was asked because the jurors sent their second note. I think it's probably getting harder by the day as jurors work toward that obviously elusive unanimity. One juror appeared to wipe her eyes, twice, and another had her arms crossed hard against her chest.