Dixon conviction should stand, Rohrbaugh argues

State prosecutor minimizes allegations of juror misconduct

December 22, 2009|By Annie Linskey | annie.linskey@baltsun.com

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh argued Monday that the conviction of Baltimore Mayor Sheila should stand, saying allegations of juror misconduct do not merit granting the new trial that her defense attorneys have requested.

"The Constitution entitles a criminal defendant to a fair trial, not a perfect one," Rohrbaugh wrote in a motion filed Monday afternoon, quoting a Supreme Court case.

Dixon was convicted earlier this month of embezzling about $500 of gift cards intended for needy Baltimore families. She was acquitted of three other charges and jurors could not reach a verdict on a fifth. She is set to be sentenced on Jan. 21.

Dixon defense attorney Arnold M. Weiner declined to comment Monday evening.

Since the conclusion of Dixon's three-week criminal trial, defense attorneys alleged that jurors jeopardized the trial when several concealed key facts about themselves and when five disobeyed a judge's order and connected via Facebook during the proceedings.

Defense attorneys argued that Shiron Davis' failure to reveal two prior theft charges made a "mockery" of the jury selection process and "deprived Ms. Dixon of a fair and impartial trial."

But in Monday's filing, Rohrbaugh lashed out at the mayor's attorneys, alleging they were aware of Davis' criminal record during the jury selection process and intentionally chose not to disclose it so they could use it as a reason to ask for a new trial in the case of a conviction.

Two of Dixon's seven lawyers used laptops in the courtroom to "scour" the state's online criminal history database and learn about jurors, Rohrbaugh said. He noted that it takes "two clicks of the mouse" to find Davis' criminal history. He also pointed to a video that showed lawyers questioning Davis during jury selection, conferring with underlings, then asking her directly about her criminal history and conferring again.

"It was at that point where defense counsel made the tactical decision not to bring the juror's criminal record to light," prosecutors allege.

By not doing so, they "gambled" that Davis would favor Dixon "knowing that if the verdict went against her, [Dixon] could obtain a new trial by later raising the issue of juror misconduct," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors also defended juror Shawana Tyler, who said during jury selection that she did not know Dixon or another witness named Mary Pat Fannon despite the fact she was photographed by The Baltimore Sun with both of them three years ago. The photo was taken after Tyler won a shopping spree at a Highlandtown supermarket that was sponsored by the Baltimore Development Corp.

Tyler told state investigators she recalled the atmosphere was "hectic" and did not recall meeting Fannon or Dixon. The prosecutors also noted that the BDC is a quasi-governmental agency that is not technically a part of city government, and the event therefore did not necessarily need to be disclosed.

Prosecutors noted that when Fannon testified she was "only a few feet" from Tyler. "Ms. Fannon apparently did not recognize Ms. Tyler - just as Ms. Tyler did not recognize Ms. Fannon," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors dismissed concerns raised by the defense lawyers that the so-called "Facebook five" jurors who connected electronically became a coercive block exerting influence on the others. He assessed their messages as "innocuous exchanges" more similar to friendly small talk than meaningful discussion of the case.

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