Jurors head for long weekend

Judge Dennis M. Sweeney bid the jurors in Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's theft case farewell for a four-day holiday break Wednesday after rejecting repeated requests by defense lawyers for a mistrial.

The judge pleaded with jurors not to put their "hard work in jeopardy" by discussing or investigating the case during the unusually long break.

"The process has come a long way," he told them as Day 5 of deliberations ended. "We'd hate to see it be disrupted."

Many of the nine women and three men on the panel nodded emphatically as the judge spoke. They wished him and each other a happy Thanksgiving as they left the courtroom after seven more hours of deliberations.

Dixon is charged with stealing or misappropriating gift cards that prosecutors say were intended for needy families. Her attorneys have said she believed the gift cards were hers to use as she saw fit.

Deliberations, which began one week ago and have now spanned about 32 hours, included an 80-minute viewing of videotaped testimony from the trial. The replay, a first in the case, came after jurors requested transcripts of testimony by three witnesses: developer Patrick Turner and city employees Edward Anthony and Mary Pat Fannon.

Turner bought gift cards and delivered them to City Hall at the mayor's request, prosecutors say. Anthony, a housing department employee who is the mayor's boyfriend, and Fannon each received one gift card from the mayor, according to testimony.

Juror No. 11, who submitted a note requesting the transcripts, wrote that the panel wanted them "to clarify facts!"

Dixon's attorneys used the note as an example of the "confusion" permeating deliberations as they asked the judge Wednesday morning to declare a mistrial. Sweeney denied the motion.

Dale P. Kelberman, one of Dixon's attorneys, argued that the jury has "an impossible task" and must play the roles of "legal" and "Talmudic" scholars.

He said the length of deliberations, coupled with the circumstances of the case - some of the theft counts were dismissed in the middle of the trial, leading the judge to exclude pages of evidence and six witnesses - had caused the defense team "great fear ... of prejudice in the case."

Adding to the confusion, the mayor's lawyer said, is the jurors' task of deciding which legal theory to apply.

Under instructions provided to the jury, Dixon could be convicted of either theft or fraudulent misappropriation related to two different sets of gift cards, but not both. She can be found guilty of a maximum of three of the current charges against her; she faced seven counts at the outset of the trial.

Two charges were dropped after prosecutors chose not to call as a witness former Dixon boyfriend Ronald Lipscomb, a developer who also provided gift cards spent by the mayor.

The note Wednesday requesting transcripts of witness testimony, said defense attorney Kelberman, "is compelling evidence the jury's still confused."

Responding to the motion for a mistrial, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said "the jury is doing exactly what it is supposed to do." He said that the notes the jury had sent - about a dozen during deliberations - and the length of time they had deliberated showed that "they are not confused at all."

"Let this proceed to the end, and let them make a decision," Rohrbaugh asked the judge.

Sweeney agreed, saying it was "not appropriate ... to discontinue the admittedly lengthy process."

Defense attorneys also objected to what they called the slippery slope of allowing the jury to review testimony, with Kelberman asking, "Are we going to watch the State v. Dixon movie?"

Prosecutors, however, had no problem with the court's providing a video recording of the testimony on a DVD.

Jurors spent an hour and 20 minutes Wednesday afternoon watching edited video of the three witnesses testifying. Court reporters removed the private bench conferences between attorneys and the judge and took out parts of Anthony's testimony that had been stricken when the judge dismissed two theft charges.

The jury watched the video in a closed courtroom, with only Dixon, the attorneys, the judge and some court staff present.

Court spokesman Darrell Pressley said jurors were told not to deliberate during the screening. He said neither jurors nor attorneys spoke while the video was played.

At about 4 p.m., jurors resumed deliberations. They asked to be released about 4:40 p.m. Shortly before the jury was sent home, the mayor's defense team again sought a mistrial in the case. The motion was rejected by the judge.

Dixon split her time between the courtroom and City Hall, and smiled as she left court Wednesday night. Her lawyers said she will spend Thanksgiving with her family, noting that her daughter flew in from out of town.

The Democratic mayor's core group of about a dozen supporters from her church and family sat in the courtroom through much of the day.

Rohrbaugh would not comment on the length of deliberations after court. Responding to a reporter's question about whether he was "distressed" by the time that had passed, Dixon's lead defense attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said, "We're not distressed. We have a legal position," referring to the motions to declare a mistrial.

The mayor's lawyers initially moved for a mistrial on Nov. 17, arguing that the jury would not be able to sort out a case in which some of the charges and witness testimony from the trial had been dropped. The judge's denial of the mistrial motions could be used by Dixon's lawyers as grounds for an appeal if she were convicted.