Reporter Jean Marbella on the juries plans to come back on Monday and deliberate in the Gun Trace Task Force trial. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Jurors in the federal trial of two former members of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force were sent home for the weekend after deliberating for about four hours, and will resume Monday.
In closing arguments Thursday, the defense attorney for Detective Marcus Taylor said authorities went “to the depths of the criminal underworld” to make their case that the officers were part of a conspiracy to rob citizens using the cover of their badges.
Attorney Jenifer Wicks called the government’s case “deplorable” and “nauseating,” and said jurors should question the motives and backgrounds of the witnesses, who included convicted police officers testifying against their former colleagues and drug dealers given immunity to outline being robbed of cash and narcotics.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said the government had not chosen the victims in the case.
“They were chosen by these men,” he said, pointing at Taylor and co-defendant Daniel Hersl. Wise said the officers hoped no one would listen to victims and added that the victims’ conduct was not on trial.
Before handing off the case for jurors to consider, prosecutors played a recording from a device surreptitiously placed inside a police vehicle by the FBI. On it, the officers discussed what to do after chasing a vehicle that got into a bad crash. They chose not to render aid.
“Dude’s unconscious, he’s ain't saying s---,” Taylor says.
Hersl says the officers should alter their time sheets to show they weren’t working at the time of the crash, and laughs: “Hey, I was in the car just driving home.”
“These men were supposed to be sentinels guarding this city from people that would break the law,” Wise told jurors. “Instead, these men became hunters.”
Federal prosecutors called more than 30 witnesses during the trial, including four officers who have admitted their roles in brazen robberies the squad carried out. Six members of the task force have pleaded guilty to federal charges that include racketeering, robbery and firearms violations.
The trial included years worth of allegations that officers from the elite unit used illegal tactics to stop citizens on the street and search their property without justification, then skimmed money.
But the unit also was carrying out much bigger heists, targeting people they believed to have large amounts of cash and finding ways to get to their property. Officers testified that Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the unit’s commander, often sought out the next target by asking victims whom they would rob if given the chance.
Hersl and Taylor are charged with racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, robbery and use of a firearm in a crime of violence, with prosecutors saying their service weapons were used for the purpose of committing extortion.
Though jurors heard a slew of sordid allegations against the entire unit, many of them focused on Jenkins, the two officers are charged with specific acts in furtherance of the conspiracy. Hersl is charged with five robberies, Taylor with four separate robberies, and both face several counts of overtime fraud.
Jurors must find the officers guilty of at least two of those “overt acts” in order to convict them of racketeering — the same kind of charge used by government prosecutors to take down gangs and drug organizations.
The complicated jury instructions took U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake nearly two hours to outline. The charges the officers are facing are the same the government uses to take down gangs and drug organizations.
The officers, who have been detained since their arrests last March, face maximum sentences of life in prison.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh released a statement after midnight Thursday to clarify that she is “well aware” of the corruption trial involving her city’s police department, expanding upon comments she made during a news briefing Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday, Hersl’s attorney said the government had failed to prove the bulk of the specific accusations against his client.
Hersl acknowledged taking money in two cases, attorney William Purpura said, but should not be charged with federal crimes.
“Look, after 17 years as a street cop, his conduct was wrong,” Purpura told jurors. “It is totally up to you to decipher what exactly that conduct was.”
Wise said “the idea that Hersl, a 17-year-veteran, has all this swirling around him and a dim bulb doesn’t go off … [that] he didn’t know exactly what was going on and what was going to happen, is preposterous.”
Taylor’s attorney criticized prosecutors for not putting victims on the stand or presenting corroborating evidence for two of the robberies he is accused of. Only the testimony of another convicted officer, who Wicks said couldn’t be trusted, implicated Taylor.
Prosecutors said the defense was trying to have it both ways, boosting testimony from the officers that they believe supports their clients, and writing off that which was damaging.
Defense attorneys also said the government hadn’t found evidence of the robberies after arresting the officers and searching their homes.