The real crime in State of Maryland v. Sheila Ann Dixon: By resting their case without testimony from the mayor's former boyfriend, prosecutors robbed us of the spectacle of ex-lovers turning on each other.

But not calling Ronald Lipscomb as a witness might have provided even more courtroom drama.

Two criminal charges were immediately thrown out. Judge Dennis Sweeney seemed to give serious consideration to declaring a mistrial - he ultimately decided against - on grounds that the witnesses and evidence pertaining to Lipscomb's gift cards had poisoned the jury.

It looked like another stumble for a prosecution team that earlier had to go back to the grand jury to reindict half its case against Dixon.

"Mr. Rohrbaugh has helped us immeasurably," defense attorney Dale Kelberman said at one point.

Unless State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh & Co. was only playing dumb.

Kelberman suggested as much, backhanded compliment notwithstanding. He claimed that prosecutors knew all along that they wouldn't put Lipscomb on the stand, that they couldn't prove his cards were meant for the poor instead of his girlfriend.

That ruse, if that's what it was, allowed prosecutors to present a parade of witnesses and piles of documents that painted Dixon as a gift card-grabbing shopaholic.

When the judge threw out the relevant charges, the jury was instructed to forget all about the 30-odd exhibits and half-dozen witnesses that had, by the defense's count, consumed two-thirds of the trial.

I've rarely agreed with Dixon's defense, but it's hard to argue with Kelberman on this point: "We don't see how this jury can put this aside. ... They're not superhuman. They're not computers."

Rohrbaugh said he was offended by the allegation of misconduct. He said they'd been serious about the Lipscomb-related charges and had planned to put him on the stand but changed strategy after defense attorney Arnold Weiner let it be known in his opening statement that he would attack Lipscomb's credibility.

Surely prosecutors knew all along that the developer - a serial gift-giver who had his corporate checks cashed in liquor stores - would come to the stand with enough baggage to fill a Coach showroom. Prosecutors also must have known that without Lipscomb, charges related to his gift cards could not be sustained. They needed Lipscomb to say he gave Dixon cards for charity.

It's by no means clear that prosecutors pulled a fast one on Dixon's high-priced legal team, but part of me wants to believe they're are at least capable of it.

Put an 'S' on his chest

If Mayor Dixon beats the rap, all those boyfriends and developers should chip in for a diamond lapel pin shaped like an "s." That's the letter her defense team pinned its hopes on Wednesday.

Dixon is charged with stealing six Toys "R" Us gift cards purchased by the city Housing Department in December 2007. She was supposed to hand them out to needy Baltimoreans.

Dixon instead gave one of them to Mary Pat Fannon, a lobbyist for the city whose household income tops $500,000. The other five turned up in the mayor's home when it was raided in June 2008.

The defense argued that Dixon meant to return those cards but forgot. She never spent them. Then again, she'd stashed them in her bedroom, in a Victoria's Secret bag filled with other gift cards that did not appear to be bound for a city office.

It's even harder to explain away the $15 card she gave to Fannon. And that's where the "s" comes in.

Kelberman noted that the indictment charges Dixon with the theft of gift cards - plural - from housing. If the jury buys the idea that Dixon never meant to pocket the five cards, Kelberman argued, she can't be convicted of stealing the single card because the indictment refers to "cards," not "card."

Judge Sweeney didn't buy it. He turned down Kelberman's request to include the "s" defense in his instructions to the jury.

Maybe that "s" will still come in handy. You can't spell "skate" without it.

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