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Ford Trial: Can the End Be Near, After All?

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BY JACKSON BAKER | APR 27, 2007

By late Thursday afternoon, members of the press corps camped out at the Federal Building and sitting in wait on jurors' verdict in the John Ford case were leaning toward a group certitude: That the evidence against Ford might be overwhelming but that, even so, a hung jury was the most likely outcome.

That conclusion was based on numerous factors, including the belief that one or two members of the racially divided jury had visibly put on skeptical faces while prosecutors were presenting their summations and, on the other hand, had smiled perceptibly at the more ironically stated final presentation of defense attorney Mike Scholl.

There was also, even among the most pro-prosecution media attendees, a grudging acknowledgement that Scholl had raised at least some doubts on the crucial issue of Ford's "predication" - i.e., clear-cut proof by the prosecution of the former state senator's disposition, in advance of his inclusion in the "Tennessee Waltz" sting, to behave corruptly.

As an example, just about everybody who was on hand last week to watch undercover informant Tim Willis being cross-examined saw an obvious implosion of both his poise and his credibility. It was unsurprising that assistant prosecutor Lorraine Craig, in her final rebuttal of Scholl, would make a point of dismissing Willis, the prosecution's own witness, as a "criminal" whose testimony was inessential to the case.

Hence the sense that an early verdict, especially one favorable to the prosecution, was not in the offing.

That conviction was somewhat unsettled, however, by the sudden reconvening in the courtroom at roughly 4 p.m. Thursday of Judge Daniel Breen and the two legal teams, including defendant Ford himself. The purpose? To deal with a specific question put by the jury: What was the precise definition of the phrase, contained in Count One of the indictment, having to do with the charge of extortion: "under color of official right."?

As the media watched and as Judge Breen, who had already done preliminary research, sounded out the two sides, chief prosecutor Tim DiScenza kept offering his conviction that the phrase meant "by reason of that person's being a public official or holding office." Just as persistently, Scholl tried to steer the definition away from so explicit a terminology. Ultimately, Breen sided with DiScenza's view, and so informed the jury. when it was called in.

With that, the jury was dismissed to go home, and soon enough media members were on their way out as well. But a new consensus seemed to be emerging: The nature of the jury's question had not been exculpatory - as, for example, a request for a precise definition of the word "entrapment" might have been - but shaded in the opposite direction: It asked for the borders of culpability to be clearly defined.

Even some of those media members who had been most firm in their belief that a hung jury was in the offing now began to surmise that an intermediate verdict - conviction on some if not all counts - was a likelihood.

That could be right, it could be wrong, but it seemed obvious that, when defendant Ford left the Federal Building afterward, surrounded by the loyal, supportive members of his extended family who have attended the trial so faithfully from the beginning, he - and they - bore a more troubled mien than usual, certainly one that was in contrast to Ford's jauntiness of the two previous days.

Still, nobody really has a clear sense yet of what will happen - presumably not even the twelve jurors who began a third day of deliberations at 9:30 Friday morning.

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