Fraud verdict may be today

Chapman is accused of misusing pension funds

Jury has deliberated for six days

Panel asks for advice if it deadlocks on a charge

August 12, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes and Michael Dresser | Stephanie Hanes and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The federal jury deliberating the fate of Baltimore investment banker Nathan A. Chapman Jr. is expected to announce a verdict this morning, court officials said yesterday.

Chapman, 46, is charged with defrauding the state employee pension system, stealing from his own publicly traded companies and lying on his income tax returns. He is accused, in part, of using state pension money to try to prop up his struggling company in a deal that cost the pension system about $5 million.

Federal sentencing guidelines are complex, but Chapman could be sentenced to years in prison if convicted.

For six days, jurors have huddled in a secluded room, considering seven weeks of testimony and sorting through the thousands of pages of evidence introduced during trial.

Until yesterday, jurors had forwarded only two questions to the judge - one asking for more jury badges, the other asking about a misprint in the jury instructions.

But yesterday morning, jurors sent another handwritten note to U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr., this time asking what to do if they were deadlocked on "one count or counts" of the 32-count case. The prosecutors, defense attorneys and Chapman rushed to the courtroom to decide how to answer.

After minimal discussion, they advised Quarles to tell the jurors that they were not required to reach a verdict on all counts.

"If you're unable to reach a verdict on some counts but are able to reach a verdict on others, that's fine," Quarles told them.

A few hours later, word spread that jurors were near a decision. But at 4 p.m., the jury went home. Those involved with the case were told to return this morning, when a verdict is expected.

Waiting for the jury's return, especially when deliberations last this long, is nerve-racking for lawyers, not to mention the defendant.

"I've had a federal jury out for 13 days," said Baltimore defense attorney William B. Purpura. "I can tell you that it's a difficult time, and it's a time when you try to do other work, but you really can't concentrate."

Six days is considered a lengthy deliberation. But in federal court, especially in white-collar cases with boxes upon boxes of documents, jurors tend to take their time.

"I don't think it's typical, but I think it's not rare with a case this size," David B. Irwin, a local defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said of the deliberations' length.

Testimony in the high-profile case went into detail about Chapman's financial dealings, and lawyers produced pages of charts, e-mail, cashed checks and other records. They gave the jurors business reports of several hundred pages, and asked them to consider individual notations on individual faxes.

The jurors - five women and seven men - could find Chapman guilty or acquit him on any of the various counts. They could return verdicts on some counts and say they are unable to do so on others.

If some counts are undecided, prosecutors would have the option of retrying them.

For developments on the Chapman case, go to baltimoresun.com/chapman.

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