Jurors say they would have opted to acquit

Liquor board defendants plead to lesser charge.

January 21, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Several jurors in the Baltimore city liquor board corruption case said yesterday that they did not believe the testimony of two key prosecution witnesses and would have voted to acquit the two defendants on one or both of the charges.

The comments from jurors, who never got to deliberate, came as former state Del. William J. Madonna Jr. and Anthony J. Cianferano formally entered guilty pleas to charges that they conspired to block enforcement of state liquor laws. Bribery charges against the two were thrown out Tuesday for lack of evidence.

The two could face maximum prison terms of up to two years, although, under sentencing guidelines, they could get off without serving any jail time. Sentencing is set for Feb. 2.

Also yesterday, the state prosecutor dropped related charges against two co-defendants, former liquor inspector Donald Cassell and current liquor inspector Michael Hyde, who had been scheduled to go on trial separately.

Assistant State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough said the decision to drop or "nol prosse" the charges against Cassell and Hyde was based on Tuesday's ruling by city Circuit Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard, who concluded that the state had failed to provide necessary independent corroboration to back a charge of bribery against Madonna and Cianferano.

Noting that the cases against Cassell and Hyde were based on the same evidence, McDonough said it would not have made sense to continue the prosecution.

The jurors who had been hearing evidence in the case learned early yesterday afternoon that the case had effectively been taken out of their hands because of Hubbard's ruling and the subsequent guilty pleas to the lesser charges. As a result, the jury never heard closing arguments or received formal instructions from the judge.

The jurors, who were interviewed after being dismissed by Hubbard, said they were generally not surprised with the way the case turned out. Some declined interviews.

"It came out pretty good," said juror William George.

Sheila Bogguess, who was elected foreman of the jury, said she believed the evidence showed Cianferano was guilty of the conspiracy charge, but that the prosecution did not prove the bribery charges against either defendant.

Juror Tyrese Wilburn said prosecution witnesses Donald J. Harlow and Charles Wilhelm "were not credible."

The same opinion about the two witnesses was expressed by Regan Nance, who said she would have found the two defendants guilty of the same conspiracy charge they pleaded guilty to, but innocent of the bribery charge.

Timiko Barnes said she would have voted to acquit both defendants but she would have voted to convict Harlow, if he had been a defendant. She also said the testimony showed state senators exerted "too much control" over the operation of the liquor board.

Harlow, who served a six-year prison term for assault with intent to murder, and Wilhelm, an admitted arsonist, testified that they witnessed the payment of bribes to Cianferano. Harlow also testified that he collected bribes from bar and restaurant owners and brought the cash back to a Waverly bar then owned by Madonna. Harlow and Wilhelm testified under grants of immunity.

A male juror said he did believe most of what Harlow said, although he added that the witness appeared to be exaggerating at times.

Said one juror, who declined to give her name, "I did not find them [Madonna and Cianferano] guilty."

"It was long, that's for sure," said another juror, adding that she was disappointed not to be able to decide the case.

Nathan C. Irby, executive secretary of the liquor board and a prosecution witness in the case, said yesterday the board had taken steps to tighten its procedures to ensure that the board will not be hit with another scandal.

He said, for instance, that liquor inspectors have been instructed not to sell political fund-raising tickets to liquor-license holders, a longstanding practice frequently mentioned during the trial.

"That, [selling tickets] I think, is just ethically wrong," he said. Asked if the ban had been put in writing, Irby said he had verbally informed the inspectors.

Irby said that in addition to finding a permanent replacement for the chief inspector's job, the board had tightened procedures to ensure that its records were secure and that other "checks and balances" were in place.

However, Irby said the agency had not yet taken any formal action to bar licensees and others with business before the board from periodically sending gifts, such as liquor and deli platters, to the board offices.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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