Marbella: Dixon jurors soak up a flickering limelight
By By Jean Marbella Jean.MARBELLA @baltsun.com
Dec 13, 2009 at 3:00 AM
Years from now, or maybe merely hours from now, they'll merge into one indiscernible blob, the collagen-ed lips of one blurring into the coy glances of another, their slightly funny names interchangeable. We won't remember exactly which scandalette belonged to which eager face splashed for a time seemingly everywhere.
Was Jamie Jungers the White House party crasher, or a Tiger Woods inamorata? Was Balloon Boy's mom Michaele Salahi or Mayumi Heene? And which one was trying to get on "Real Housewives of Washington, D.C.," and which one already had been on "Wife Swap" but was hungering for another reality show gig?
At a time when many feel entitled to a degree of celebrity, however fleeting and under whatever circumstances, I guess it shouldn't be surprising that Baltimore has its own group of moths similarly drawn to the flame of fame - our very own faux-lebrities in our very own reality show.
Call it "Jurors Gone Wild: The Dixon Trial."
The jury that convicted Mayor Sheila Dixon of embezzlement, according to her motion Friday for a new trial, had its share of attention-mongers - jurors who might have been dazzled by the attention brought, at least locally, to the case of the wayward gift cards meant for the needy.
It was hardly sneaking into a glamorous state dinner at the White House or having sex with a superstar golfer. They sat in a crumbling courthouse, listened to testimony that ranged from mind-numbingly dull to fleetingly interesting, then were locked in a room with 11 strangers to come to an agreement on whether Dixon stole or misappropriated the cards.
Hard to imagine that serving on this jury could lead to a spot on the sofa with Oprah or a book deal, but there were TV satellite trucks outside, fancy lawyers inside and an entire city waiting on your verdict. Maybe that's about as close a brush to stardom as you can hope for in Baltimore.
Whatever the reason, some of the jurors are now in the spotlight, perhaps inadvertently in some cases. But some of those who figure in Dixon's motion for a new trial were also the quickest to give interviews to the news media after the verdict.
Where to start? There are the Facebook Five - jurors who, despite the judge's daily warnings not to talk or Twitter, e-mail or text about the case while it was going on, friended one another and chatted online about it.
And then there's Shawana Tyler, aka Juror No. 3 and, perhaps not so coincidentally, one of the Facebook Five. She turns out to have one of those reality show-ready back stories that provide a big reveal in the final episode.
She denied ever having received food baskets or gift cards from the city or knowing either Dixon or a key witness, Mary Pat Fannon, the motion said, even though both had spoken at a "Supermarket Sweep" event that Tyler won - the prize being a race through a grocery store to fill up a cart. (Tyler has said she didn't remember Dixon or Fannon being there.)
While both of those incidents previously were reported by The Baltimore Sun and other media, the motion for a new trial had several more allegations of juror misbehavior - Shiron Davis, Juror No. 6 (and, you guessed it, a member of the Facebook Five), had failed to disclose that she had been arrested a couple of years ago on charges of theft.
Then there are reports of a couple of jurors being heard discussing the case outside the courthouse: one near a downtown fast-food restaurant shortly after the judge dismissed the jury for the day, and another at a Thanksgiving get-together.
These reports came from tipsters to the court, and the names of the jurors weren't revealed. The description of the fast-food gabber, a white woman with blond, curly hair, doesn't exactly match any juror. The only blond woman on the jury was Elaine Pollack, Juror No. 11, who is also (natch) one of the Facebook Five - but her hair is straight. Tyler has curly, light brown hair.
What this means for Dixon's chances for a new trial are anyone's guess. It does raise the question, though, of how the centuries-old jury system can survive our times, when seemingly nothing happens in secret, or stays that way for long before some participant decides to broadcast it.
Oddly, Tyler was the juror who wrote a note to the judge on the day the verdict asking that her "personal information" not be released to the public, and which seven other members signed on to as well.
She, though, was one of two jurors (the other was Pollack) who immediately plunged into the media scrum outside the courthouse after being released from service, "yielding to the temptation for attention," as Dixon's motion asserts.
Tyler's face soon was on every local news station and Web site, giving out tough quotes about Dixon. Ironically, had Tyler taken the bus that ferried the less camera-hungry jurors away through a back entrance, Fannon wouldn't have recognized the winner of that supermarket contest. And Tyler, who was so proud to have helped convict the mayor, now wouldn't be helping Dixon make a case for a new trial.