A Baltimore County Circuit Court jury yesterday declared that Rep. Helen Delich Bentley did not try to choke an Owings Mills process server during a June 1, 1990, confrontation in her Towson office.
But neither did the process server, John E. Burns, 42, assault Mrs. Bentley, according to the jury's verdict, reached yesterday after 80 minutes of deliberation.
"I'm just glad it's over with," said Mrs. Bentley, the 68-year-old Republican from the 2nd District. "It's been a long time hanging." She declined further comment.
Mr. Burns, a licensed private investigator and former Baltimore police officer, deferred questions to his attorney, Stanley Kantor, after the verdict was announced yesterday.
"Yeah, we're disappointed," Mr. Kantor said. "We thought we were entitled to a verdict. We think Mr. Burns was assaulted and we were entitled to a verdict."
During the two-day trial, Mr. Burns claimed that Mrs. Bentley choked him after he served her with a subpoena.
Mrs. Bentley took the stand yesterday and denied choking Mr. Burns, or otherwise intentionally touching him. She said she might have brushed up against him, but that was all.
She also said she was afraid when Mr. Burns began shouting obscenities at her and waving his finger in her face.
"I was scared," Mrs. Bentley insisted, under cross-examination -- although she added that "it's not the type of thing I tell people."
Mrs. Bentley filed a cross-complaint alleging that Mr. Burns assaulted her by making her afraid she might be struck.
In closing arguments, Kathleen Cox, the congresswoman's attorney, stressed that a witness to the incident, Jimette A. Thanos, said she never saw Mrs. Bentley touch Mr. Burns.
Mrs. Cox also pointed to testimony from two police officers who said they had to ask Mr. Burns to stop rubbing his neck after the incident because they thought he might be producing marks that weren't there before.