Time seemed to stop when Mayor Sheila Dixon's trial began three weeks ago - although maybe that was just because the clock in the courtroom was broken, stuck at 9:47.
The next day, it was still stuck, but at a different time, 9:19. Eventually the clock was replaced by a working one, albeit one that runs a little fast and makes you think it's later than it is. But that could just be how it seems when you're waiting for some indeterminate amount of time for an equally unknowable thing:
When Dixon's jury will render its verdict.
That of course is Baltimore's own variant of the question theoretical physicists love to ask: How long is a piece of string?
I'm not sure what if any kind of clock the jurors have in their deliberation room, but in just about every other way, they're removed from the distractions of life as it's lived these days: e-mail, the Internet, Twitter, YouTube links, all the clutter, digital and otherwise, that takes up so much of our available attention span. Even their cell phones get taken away at the start of the day.
I wonder if, at least initially, being cut off from the world made them feel somewhat adrift and at a loss as to how to proceed with their task. How do you figure something out if you can't ask the oracle of our time, Google? No wonder the first questions to emerge from the jury room included requests for a law dictionary and transcripts of the testimony.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the door, those of us following the trial fill the vacuum of news from their room by e-mailing, Twittering, posting and old-fashioned gossiping - we have all the means in the world to spread what we know, we just don't know anything about what's going on in there.
Somehow, despite being just a hallway apart, we're living in two different time zones, if not two alternate universes. We're in a hurry, they're taking their time. We're used to constant updates, they're in a virtual isolation chamber. We're focused on when they'll decide, they're presumably focused on what they'll decide.
So how long is too long? How quickly should 12 people decide a case with some complicated charges and some major implications not just for the defendant but for the city that elected her?
Ever since the jury was sent to start deliberating on Nov. 19, we've been anxiously anticipating its return. They'd be done by the following day, amateur courtroom pundits were sure, because they wouldn't want the case hanging over their heads over the weekend.
Then conventional wisdom had them wrapping up by the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, at the latest, because they'd need Wednesday to start cooking.
Now, two weekends, and one Thanksgiving, have gone by since they started deliberating. The mayor's defense team said their lengthy deliberations show that the jurors are hopelessly confused, and the judge should declare an immediate mistrial. Prosecutors argued that jury deliberations were simply proceeding as they should - with all due deliberation.
Even as Judge Dennis M. Sweeney refused to grant a mistrial, he acknowledged that the jurors were "taking a good amount of time" to decide.
So they'll be back at it tomorrow for a sixth day of deliberations, and the Greek chorus in the courtroom will be back for more commenting on action to which we're not privy.
When they were sent off on Wednesday for a four-day break from the courthouse, the fear was that they might not be able to keep secret what they've been discussing, or, alternately, that they'd take the extra time off to poke around on the Internet or take a quick peek at the media coverage - both verboten.
Legitimate concerns, but could this also be more projecting on our part? The jurors, who seem to be taking their task seriously, might not be as obsessed with what's going on outside their room as the other way around.
In fact, I'm beginning to think it was the rest of us who really needed that four-day break from the trial.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun