Jurors deliberating over trial experience

Some who served on ex-officer's trial regret their decision

November 11, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In a steamy fifth-floor Baltimore Circuit Court room this week, members of a jury charged with deciding the fate of former police officer Dorian J. Martin deliberated hard.

Tension built as they pored over notes, examining and re-examining evidence. They pushed back old jury-room chairs and paced the room. One juror slammed a pencil down on a long wooden table in frustration.

At times, nearly everyone in the room demanded to be heard all at once: A cacophony of yelling voices reverberated off the jury room walls, spilling through heavy wood doors into the hallway.

"It started getting pretty bad. At one point, it got to the point where we were talking about different things, but talking at the same time," said Brian Meadows, a commercial driver and juror. "Someone had to just grab control."

So, they negotiated and turned in a compromise verdict. But after it ended Monday with a partial acquittal and jurors read accounts about the officer's past, many said they regretted their ruling and that Martin got off easy.

"If we knew that he had been implicated in other actions like this, it would have affected the outcome," said Michael Anair, a juror and flight attendant for American Airlines.

The jurors had assembled Nov. 3 in Judge Clifton J. Gordy's courtroom to decide whether Martin had stolen about $300 from an immigrant.

The jurors were everyday Baltimoreans: A minister, a homemaker, an office manager. They were equal numbers of black and white, male and female, young and old. Some brought strong religious convictions. Others brought their work and family experiences to the deliberations.

The heavily publicized case began Dec. 28, 1998, when Martin allegedly stopped and robbed Felix Guevara while the immigrant from El Salvador walked home from work at the Baltimore Brewing Co.

Some in the Latino community said Martin, who worked in the racially diverse Southeastern District, knew his patrol area was rife with immigrants who are culturally suspicious of police and often carry lots of cash, intending to send it home to relatives.

But according to Martin, Guevara taunted him with about $200 cash. Angered, the officer grabbed the money and stuffed it in his pocket, he said. A police dispatcher then called Martin away, and he realized later he had the money, he said. He tried to find Guevara, he added, but to no avail.

By the time Martin finished his shift, Guevara had contacted police supervisors, and the incident had snow-balled. Panicked, Martin resigned that night.

He later said he thought that would be the end of it. But he soon faced charges, to which he pleaded guilty. He plea-bargained his sentence to probation and home detention, but that was overturned on a technicality. So Martin changed his plea to not guilty.

Almost a year after the incident, Martin sat in Gordy's courtroom facing jurors and the man accusing him of felony robbery. During the three-day trial, he would alternately hang his head, scoff and weep.

Though a few jurors nodded off in the warm courtroom, most watched the proceedings with intensity. Some took notes. By 12: 45 p.m. Monday, they had heard hours of testimony and were ready to decide.

Almost. They sent Gordy a note: "We would like to go to lunch."

At 1: 30 p.m., deliberations -- and the jury room drama -- began.

Many brought a tone of humanity to the proceedings, Anair said. Some prayed for guidance. The feeling, he said, was, "We are all guilty. We have all done something wrong in our lives. We were all local people with some little difficulties in our lives."

The jury first took up the issue of robbery, a felony charge punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment. Gordy, a baritone-voiced, no-nonsense judge, had detailed in 15 minutes of jury instructions the requirements for a robbery conviction: proof that the accused took the property, that he did so by force, threat or intimidation and that he intended to steal -- to permanently deprive a victim of property.

The jury spent most of its two hours of deliberation on the unglamorous work of parsing this legal definition.

"The main disagreement was not understanding what robbery meant by law," said Joe Rozankowski, a longshoreman. "There was disagreement about intimidation."

Amid the discussion, questions shot out:

Is a police officer automatically intimidating by force of his uniform, badge and gun?

What about the height difference between Guevara and Martin? Martin stands about a foot taller than the immigrant, who is 5 feet 4 inches.

The women insisted they wouldn't be intimidated by men or police officers. Why would Guevara? During the trial, the prosecution suggested that Guevara had come from a country where police abuse their authority.

About 2: 30 p.m., the disagreement escalated beyond polite discussion. Shrill voices rose and fell. Phrases and questions leaked into the hall.

"Do you really think he would put his career on the line over $300?" one juror asked. "All of us have lied at one time or another," another said.

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