Jury reports it is making 'progress'

Baltimore Sun

Jurors in Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's theft and embezzlement trial are heading into a fourth day of deliberations today but reported Monday that they were making "progress."

A note delivered about 4:30 p.m. Monday from the jury forewoman asked Judge Dennis M. Sweeney to dismiss jurors for the day but also said, "We are making progress."

"My suggestion is that we follow the jury's lead," Sweeney said, and instructed the nine women and three men to return at 9 a.m. today. They have been in deliberations about 18 hours.

Walking out of the courtroom at the end of the day, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said he could not speculate on what the length of deliberations meant.

"I've been around long enough not to hazard to guess what happens in the jury room," he said.

The jury's only trial-related question Monday came from juror No. 11, who asked whether a particular exhibit had been thrown out. The judge replied that the item was admissible.

The exhibit in question was a spreadsheet assembled in 2006 by an administrative assistant for Dixon, then the City Council president, showing the delivery of gift cards to families who had called to say that they needed donations for the holidays.

The administrative assistant, Lauretta Brown, testified that she organized the "holiday giving program" and that Dixon and others provided gift cards from places such as Safeway, Giant, Best Buy and Target.

Jurors might have been confused about the exhibit because it was from a year that's no longer part of the trial. When prosecutors rested their case last week without calling developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, Sweeney dismissed two theft charges related to gift cards Lipscomb said he gave Dixon in 2005 and 2006.

Dixon's jury is considering five charges that remain. Prosecutors say she spent or gave to aides gift cards that developer Patrick Turner donated for charity in 2005. She also is accused of taking gift cards from the 2007 Holly Trolley charity program run by the city housing department.

The exhibit that the juror asked about was not on the list of three dozen items jurors were instructed to disregard. Prosecutors entered the spreadsheet to show that Dixon's City Council office had a gift card program for charity.

The prosecution had no objection to the question, but Dixon's six in-court defense attorneys huddled for about 10 minutes, occasionally consulting their laptops, before they agreed with the state's position.

Later, Dixon's lead defense attorney Arnold M. Weiner said in an interview he and the other defense lawyers had "talked over" the juror's question and "concluded that you can't really come to any conclusions about it."

It had seemed possible that jurors were concluding their deliberations around 11:30 a.m., when the jury forewoman handed a note to the court that read, "We are making great progress."

The note was signed by juror No. 12, and in the note that juror requested a short break to give jurors some time "to think about their own opinion, and others need fresh air." Juror No. 12 added, "I personally need a smoke, along with three other members of the jury."

On Monday, the court also made public copies of 29 other notes that the jurors have passed to the judge throughout the trial. Most were minor requests, including one that the air conditioning be turned down, several for attorneys and witnesses to speak louder, and two for pencils.

Juror No. 11 reported on Thursday that she had attended the unveiling of the new pink flamingo at Cafe Hon in Hampden with her family the night before. "Unknown to myself or my family, Sheila Dixon was present for the event as well," the juror reported. "No words were exchanged and I am unsure if the mayor even saw me."

Before jurors assembled Monday morning, Sweeney read a note that the forewoman had left behind as court ended Friday after jurors reported being "overheated" in their discussions.

The woman, Juror No. 4, had asked whether she was supposed to be reading all notes before they were submitted to Sweeney. The judge told jurors that notes should come from the forewoman but stressed that each juror has a right to ask questions.

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