Jury deadlocks in People vs. Blum NIH officer was accused of taking publication

April 04, 1997|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Jurors didn't subscribe to a federal prosecutor's theory that a National Institutes of Health police officer stole a People magazine from the facility's library. Nor did they clear Sgt. Bruce Blum.

After two days of testimony from nine witnesses, including an FBI fingerprint expert, and six hours of deliberations, a U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore deadlocked, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial.

The U.S. attorney's office will have to decide whether it wants to retry Blum.

Despite the best pretrial efforts of the prosecutor and judge to weed out anyone who found something amusing about a federal case involving the theft of a $2.69 magazine, there was evidence they failed after the 12 jurors retired for deliberations.

"We thought, 'Oh, my God, what are we doing here over a People magazine?' " said foreman Christopher Staiger.

Staiger said the jury had a hard-core minority that never would have voted to convict and an equally adamant minority against acquittal.

One thing jurors agreed about was the poor quality of the evidence prepared by the NIH Police Department, he said.

The big gun in the prosecution's case -- a surveillance camera hidden by NIH officers in a potted plant at the library -- produced an out-of-focus, off-kilter, reverse-angle image that looked as if it was shot by spacecraft Voyager II.

The camera was trained on the library door rather than the magazine rack where the People had been stored. So the videotape, which captured 48 hours, showed Blum -- or a reasonable facsimile -- for just a few seconds the night of Dec. 18.

Even after repeated showings of portions of the tape and Assistant U.S. Attorney Hollis Weisman's insistence that the shadowy something under Blum's arm "well could be a magazine," Senior Judge Herbert N. Maletz wasn't buying it.

With the jury out of the courtroom during the trial, Maletz told Weisman: "I will be very blunt with you. I did not see it [the magazine], and I have seen this videotape over and over."

Blum, a nine-year veteran of the NIH department, testified that he entered the library as part of his rounds after he noticed that a piece of paper was taped over the door's window and the lights were on. He said he checked what he considered an unusual situation and left.

"My client is being accused of being where he was supposed to be and doing what he was supposed to be doing," said Blum's lawyer, Henry L. Belsky.

Weisman told the jury that the tape showed Blum was the only person in the library from the time it was locked by the librarian at 7 p.m. Dec. 18 until she opened it at 11 a.m. the next day. The tape, she said, shows Blum stuffing People inside his clothes.

Pub Date: 4/04/97

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