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Gift cards to Dixon from 3rd developer alleged

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The jury of nine women and three men selected for Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's criminal theft trial will begin work Thursday morning, but first a judge will weigh new allegations involving another batch of gift cards said to have been donated by a developer not previously named in the case.

Two city developers, Patrick Turner and Ronald H. Lipscomb, have been identified as potential witnesses in the mayor's theft case, and a defense motion filed Tuesday reveals that prosecutors want a third developer to testify. The mayor is accused of buying personal items with at least $1,500 in retail gift cards donated to her office for use by needy families.

The newly named developer, Glenn Charlow, donated gift cards to Dixon to be used "in connection with her church activities," according to papers filed in court by the mayor's lawyers in an effort to block his testimony. There are no details about how State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh believes the gift cards were used, or how much money may have been involved.

Dixon's attorneys object to the anticipated new testimony because, they say, prosecutors interviewed Charlow in June 2008 but did not disclose key information until Friday, on the eve of the trial.

Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said he will take up at least some of the numerous pretrial motions before jurors arrive in the downtown courtroom Thursday morning. Courts are closed today for Veterans Day.

The 12 jurors and six alternates - nearly three-quarters of whom are black - "certainly speaks to Baltimore City's demographics," said Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who observed jury selection. "I would expect that both sides feel very satisfied with that."

No information about the jurors or alternates, including their names, ages or racial identities, has been made public, making it impossible to ascertain the precise demographic makeup of the panel that will decide the mayor's fate.

The jury appeared to be composed of five black women, two black men, two white women, one white man, one Asian woman and one woman whose ethnicity was unclear. The alternates include three black men and three black women.

Dixon, 55, faces seven theft-related counts in this trial and also is scheduled to stand trial in March on perjury charges. In that case, she is accused of failing to disclose gifts from Lipscomb, her former boyfriend. At the time, she was City Council president and Lipscomb was doing business with the city. If convicted on any charge in either case, Dixon would have to step down and would lose her $83,000 annual pension. She also could face a fine or jail time.

The mayor told reporters last night as she entered a Citizens Planning and Housing Association meeting in Brooklyn that she is "fine" and feeling "good."

She predicted that the jury would "provide a good balance and a fair trial."

A half-hour later, as she left, Dixon was asked whether it was awkward to attend public events while she was on trial.

"I'm the mayor of the city," she responded, testily. "I represent the city. I love going out to events. I don't feel awkward at all. You might feel awkward, but that is on you."

At the courthouse, Dixon did not speak as she departed Tuesday afternoon through a secure exit once the jury was chosen.

Her lead attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said, "We're satisfied with the jury, and we look forward to a fair trial."

Rohrbaugh, the prosecutor, who used a trial consultant to help select jurors, would not say how he felt about the jury.

"I don't discuss the case," he said.

After the judge dismissed dozens of potential jurors whom he believed could not be impartial, each side was allowed to reject four jurors without giving a reason and, in addition, could reject a number of alternates.

The defense struck two white men, one white woman and one black woman, using up its challenges by the time the seventh juror was seated. State prosecutors did not use all of their challenges, but turned away a black woman and a black man. Both sets of attorneys also rejected several would-be alternates.

Weiner said that using his challenges early was part of "our strategy."

Colbert, the law professor, said the defense must have felt "quite confident about the remaining group."

The judge told the newly chosen jurors that he would try to "insulate" them as much as possible in the highly publicized case.

He warned them not to read or watch anything about the trial or attempt any investigation on their own. Also forbidden: texting, "tweeting" or using other social media, such as Facebook or MySpace, to communicate anything about the proceedings. Sweeney told jurors to tell as few people as possible about their jury duty.

"You're performing a very important public service here," Sweeney said. Several jurors nodded as he spoke.

Among the motions Sweeney might take up Thursday is one that prosecutors filed Tuesday in an effort to compel testimony from a Lipscomb employee, Randell Finney.

Prosecutors allege Finney was involved in Lipscomb's purchase of retail gift cards for Dixon's office; those were among the cards that she is charged with spending - sometimes within hours - on items for herself and her family.

Finney is refusing to testify "on the basis of his privilege against self-incrimination," according to prosecutors. The judge could compel him to testify by granting immunity.

In attempting to keep Charlow from testifying, defense attorneys disclosed details in a court filing about the prosecutors' new allegations.

According to the filing, Charlow told prosecutors that Turner requested that he purchase Target gift cards for Dixon in December 2006. Charlow was a partner in Turner's upscale Silo Point condo development just south of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Charlow made the purchase and then "dropped [the cards] off" at City Hall, but he believed that they would be used "in connection with her church activities," the filing states. Dixon is a longtime member of Bethel AME in West Baltimore.

The judge will decide whether the prosecutors' allegations about Charlow were made too late to be fair to the mayor.

In their motion to suppress the evidence, her attorneys called the prosecution move an "11th-hour disclosure … without a justifiable excuse."

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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