The incredible shrinking case

  • Mayor Sheila Dixon and her lead attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, face the media after her conviction on a single charge of taking gift cards intended for the city's poor.
Mayor Sheila Dixon and her lead attorney, Arnold M. Weiner,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
December 01, 2009|By Jean Marbella

To the end, it remained the incredible shrinking case, starting as an investigation into millions of dollars of city contracts, but then becoming a trial about the use of hundreds of dollars of gift cards.

The case continued to shrink as the trial progressed, and then on Tuesday, the jury found Mayor Sheila Dixon guilty on just one misdemeanor count -- of misappropriation.

But as it turned out, that's all it took. Suddenly it was unclear who was the mayor of Baltimore City. The city solicitor quickly issued a statement saying, "The jury's verdict today does not impact the Mayor's responsibility to continue serving as Mayor of the City of Baltimore at this time," but surely that wouldn't be the last word.

In any event, Dixon made a point of going directly to City Hall from the courthouse, but she obviously returned to her office under much changed circumstances.

But how changed? The first couple of hours after the verdict turned into a swirl of activity — from City Hall refusing to let reporters in to trial observers speculating on what happens next to everyone seeming to just need time to absorb the impact of the jurors' decision.

As long awaited as the verdict was — it took seven days of deliberations — it still landed as a shock in a packed courtroom that had been warned against any outbursts.

Dixon remained stone-faced even as everyone else seemed to crumble from the intensity of the moment, even as her eyes appeared to fill with tears as she addressed the media. Her lawyers were visibly emotional after the hard-fought trial, and some supporters cried in the courtroom.

At least one juror also felt the impact of what she had helped decide.

"It was kind of heartbreaking," said juror No. 3, who would only give her first name, Shawana, when she spoke to reporters after the verdict.

"I did vote for Dixon," the 23-year-old said. "I felt we're losing something good. But we're gaining something else."

That gain, she said, was the lesson that no matter who you are, you don't get a pass on taking something away from someone — in Dixon's case, gift cards said to be for the needy.

Even as she was taking a hard line — "I personally believe you do the crime, you do the time" — Shawana said she felt the enormity of what jurors decided.

"It was like giving someone the death penalty," she said. "You're putting your hand on someone's life."

Shawana's name was misspelled when this column was initially posted online. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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