Jury gives no signs of a direction

The Baltimore jury deliberating the theft case against Mayor Sheila Dixon has met for about 25 hours -- nearly as long as testimony presented in the trial -- and is to return this morning to begin its fifth day.

Jurors, who have sent more than 30 notes with questions over the course of the trial, made no inquiries Tuesday, except to ask to be released at about 4:30 p.m. On Monday, they sent two notes saying "progress" had been made. Although earlier notes mentioned "overheated" discussions, jurors have not given an indication that they won't be able to reach a verdict.

As Judge Dennis M. Sweeney dismissed the jury, he reminded the nine women and three men that they are in the middle of "a very important process" and thanked them for their "extraordinary diligence and effort to this point."

"We know it's not an easy process," he told the panel members, who showed no emotion as they sat in the jury box.

Sweeney has not mentioned the Thanksgiving holiday in front of the jurors.

Courts are closed Thursday and Friday, which means the jury would be off for four full days if it did not reach a verdict today. State prosecutors, like all state government workers in Maryland, are subject to an unpaid work day today, an effort to close a state budget gap. But the prosecutors will be in court and will take another day off instead.

Dixon's lead defense attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said after court that it would be "fruitless to speculate" about why the deliberations have spanned four full days.

"There's really very little to say, except we'll be back tomorrow," he said.

Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland professor who has watched parts of the trial, speculated that the jurors were having "a healthy discussion."

"If they were hopelessly deadlocked, you'd have gotten a note or some other sign of that by now," he said.

Defense attorney Warren A. Brown, who also has followed the trial, agreed, saying that "they must feel like they're nearing a conclusion. They are piecing things together."

Brown said he wondered if jurors were "working their way toward the middle - some sort of compromise verdict," noting that that would not be good for Dixon.

Then again, Brown said, with the holidays approaching, jurors "may find that they're in a generous mood and acquit her."

The Democratic mayor could lose her job and her pension and be fined or face jail time if convicted of any of the charges.

Dixon again spent much of the day in the courtroom, talking with her lawyers and supporters. At any time, about three dozen people milled about the dimly lit room, waiting for word from the jury that never came. Councilman James B. Kraft stopped in to say hello to Dixon, making him the fourth council member to visit the courtroom.

Defense attorneys completed a crossword puzzle.

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh and his assistants spent another day "getting to know each other really, really well," said senior assistant state prosecutor Shelly Glenn. The prosecution team recently packed up boxes of files that had been scattered about a makeshift office in the courthouse basement.

Retired Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John M. Glynn said waiting for a jury to come back with a verdict "calls for an abundance of patience." He said that "every judge encounters situations where a jury can't reach a verdict."

Glynn said that four days was a "lengthy" amount of time for a city jury to deliberate.

"Sometimes what tends to happen is, as the judge, you get a certain feeling," Glynn said. "You get a sense if anything is getting accomplished. If the judge believes they are making progress, it is not appropriate to stop them."

Sweeney, the presiding judge, poked fun at the speculation inherent in lengthy deliberations. Before he brought the jury into court, he reported to prosecutors and the defense team that jurors had eaten three pizzas for lunch: "pepperoni, plain and vegetarian."

Interpreting what the jury's food preferences meant, the judge said, "would probably be as good as anything else you are reading into."

Prosecutors say Dixon stole Target and Best Buy gift cards purchased by a developer and intended for needy families, and spent them instead on herself and her aides. She also is accused of taking six Toys "R" Us gift cards from a city housing department holiday charity event.

The mayor's lawyers say she thought that the cards were meant for her personal use.