UPDATE: William Jefferson jury begins second day of deliberations in federal corruption case
by Jonathan Tilove and Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Friday July 31, 2009, 9:20 AM
UPDATE 9 a.m.: The jury has convened for its second day of considering 16 counts against former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson. Judge T.S. Ellis III said he expects the panel to recess about 3 p.m. (New Orleans time) to accommodate some jurors' schedules.
The jury will go home for the weekend and return Monday.
The closing arguments, meanwhile, attracted the attention of The Washington Post. Read Dana Milbank's take here.
From today's Times-Picayune:
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The jury in the 16-count federal corruption case of William Jefferson heard more than 2 1/2 hours of jury instructions from Judge T.S. Ellis III on Thursday and then began their deliberations.
The jurors broke for the day after about four hours of deliberations and will return Friday morning.
"You're the sole judge of the evidence received in this case, " Ellis told the jury before launching into a long and detailed explication of the matters of law and standards of proof the jurors have to bring to their deliberations, and the very particular features of the half-dozen laws Jefferson stands accused under.
The number and complexity of the counts, coming off more than six weeks of trial, suggest that a verdict before the weekend is unlikely.
Harry Rosenberg, a former chief federal prosecutor in New Orleans now in private practice, said the jurors are being asked to gain a very quick grasp of some of the most sophisticated laws on the books -- from the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization, or RICO, law to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, to the Honest Services fraud and money laundering statutes.
Asking the jury to understand all that, on top of digesting a month-and-a-half of testimony involving an array of alleged schemes by the former congressman, is a daunting challenge, Rosenberg said.
"It's very complicated. It'd be like me learning to be an electrician in two hours, " he said. "Just addressing each one of the counts could take anywhere from two to four days."
Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, said that while a quick verdict -- within 48 to 72 hours -- "would be viewed as a good sign for the prosecution, " a verdict that came in too quickly "would be viewed highly suspiciously."
"Jurors take their responsibilities seriously, and especially in a case of this magnitude, on which the government has spent this much time and money, " Turley said. "As a general rule, one would expect a verdict no earlier than next week."
Before sending the jury off to lunch and their deliberations at the Federal District Court on Thursday, Ellis sent the three alternate jurors home, with instructions to "remain pristine," in terms of not being exposed to any information about the case, because one of more of them could be recalled if something happens to one of the dozen jurors now vested with the responsibility of deciding the case.
That jury of 12 consists of six white women, two white men, two black women and two black men. The jurors' first order of business after lunch was selecting a foreman, in the privacy of the jury room; one of the men was selected.
Ellis said that the lawyers need not be present when the jury convenes each morning before repairing for deliberations, but that if one side was present the other side should be. Jefferson's lead defense attorney, Robert Trout, told Ellis that his client had indicated he wants to be there each morning when the jury arrives.
Michael DeMocker/The Times-PicayuneSurrounded by his family and his defense team, William Jefferson leaves U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., on Thursday.
On Wednesday, for the first time since opening statements in the trial on June 16, the courtroom was packed with spectators for closing arguments. On Thursday, only about a dozen people were in attendance, including Jefferson's wife, Andrea, three of their five daughters and a handful of reporters, mostly representing Louisiana news outlets.
During the trial, Ellis had scolded attorneys for taking more time than anticipated in questioning witnesses. In advance of closing arguments, he allotted each side 2 1/2 hours to make their presentations, but asked them to try to keep it to two hours, suggesting that even that exceeded the capacity of jurors to listen and absorb.
But on Thursday, Ellis, who had said his presentation of the jury instructions would take 1 1/2 hours or a bit more, went on for more than 2 1/2 hours. His remarks were taped by the deputy court clerk so the jury could replay them in the jury room. Shortly after they began their deliberations, the jurors sent the court a note asking for a written copy of the jury instructions and Ellis indicated a transcript would be provided as soon as it is ready.
"Much of this case turns on the jury instructions, " said Turley, with the defense contending that Jefferson did not violate the bribery statute that is at the center of the case because there was no "quid pro quo" for "official acts" as a member of Congress. Guided by the judge's instructions, the jury must determine whether the efforts Jefferson made on behalf of business deals in which his family had an interest constituted "official acts."
Further complicating things, some of the 16 counts include multiple subsections, and the jury, to convict on that count, must agree unanimously on which subsection or subsections apply. Count 16, which charges that "the office of Congressman William Jefferson was a corrupt enterprise engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity," includes 12 Acts. Acts 1 through 11 each has a part A and B. Act 12 has parts A through I.
On some counts, but not all, the jury must conclude that some element of the crime occurred in the eastern district of Virginia where the trial is being held, but in making that determination it can rely on a preponderance of the evidence instead of the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard they using for the rest of their deliberations.
Ellis outlined the seven criteria for conviction under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which, after 32 years on the books, is receiving its maiden application to a public official. Ellis paused for a moment before listing those criterion, muttering, "it's in the disjunctive."
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charge refers to the government's allegation that the $90,000 found in Jefferson's freezer when the FBI raided his home in the summer of 2005 was intended as a bribe Jefferson was going to deliver to Atiku Abubakar, then vice president of Nigeria.
The money was never delivered, but Ellis said to be found guilty under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, "it is not required that the payment actually be made. It is the offer or authorization (of the bribe) that completes the crime."
The defense has said Jefferson never intended to deliver the money, though his attorneys have never explained what plans Jefferson had for the cash.
Ellis also told the jury that it cannot take into consideration the fact that Jefferson did not take the stand in his own defense, as is his right. No one can even mention it, Ellis said.
Ellis also cautioned the jurors that no deliberations can occur when any single member of the jury is in the bathroom or otherwise out of the room.
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Jonathan Tilove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7827. Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7861.