Former state senator Roscoe Dixon was convicted Thursday on all five counts in his bribery and conspiracy trial in federal court. The early-afternoon verdict was returned within an hour after jurors had returned from their Thursday lunch break.
The jury -- composed of seven whites and five blacks and with the same seven-to-five preponderance of women to men had deliberated a day and a half before delivering its verdict Thursday afternoon. There was no visible emotional response from either the prosecution or the defense side or from spectators in the courtroom as the verdict was read by a female juror in a matter-of-fact voice from a microphone stand facing presiding judge Jon McCalla.
Assistant U.S. attorney Tim DiScenza nodded politely to Dixon, who will remain free pending a September 8th sentencing, as the two of them departed almost simultaneously through the wooden gate dividing the trial-area proper from the spectator seats.
On his way out of the courtroom, Dixon gave hugs to his wife, Gloria Dobbins, and city council member TaJuan Stout-Mitchell, who had sat by Dobbins holding her hand before the verdict was read. Its all right, Dixon said quietly to each.The former state senator, who had held influential committee posts before resigning early in 2005 to become an aide to Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, was the first Memphis defendant to have gone to trial in Operation Tennessee Waltz and the first major legislative figure to be tried for a plea of Not Guilty.
The jurors had listened to five days of testimony including several hours of video and audio tapes secretly recorded by the FBI. On Wednesday, the first full day of deliberations, they had sent questions to Judge McCalla asking for elaboration on the concepts of predication (the process whereby a defendants prior conduct is considered to have predisposed him toward commission of a crime) and entrapment.
That circumstance may have offered some encouragement to Dixon, his supporters, and his defense team. Dixons lead attorney, Coleman Garrett, had argued that his client was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by the government itself.. But the defendants fate was probably sealed when, under both direct examination and cross-examination Tuesday, he had conceded taking sums from the FBIs undercover team, who purported to be representatives of E-Cycle, a computer recycling company seeking legislative favors.
U.S. Attorney David Kustoff issued a statement after the verdict thanking the jury and praising the prosecution team and the FBI for their efforts. Pointedly, his statement contained the following paragraph:
Operation Tennessee Waltz is an ongoing, active, continuing investigation. The people of Tennessee and their elected officials need to understand that where the public trust has been violated, the United States Attorneys Office will prosecute. This office will continue to aggressively pursue those elected officials who engage in public corruption.
That, plus the 90-day wait for sentencing, fueled speculation that Dixon may feel pressure not only to take part as a government witness in subsequent Tennessee Waltz trials but possibly to offer new information about further colleagues that could result in charges against them.
The former senator was asked about that possibility during a post-conviction press conference outside the federal building, and both he and attorney Garrett declined to comment on it. Instead, Garrett reiterated his belief in the entrapment defense which jurors had ultimately rejected.
Dixon himself fluctuated between acceptance of his fate -- saying he was in the big boys league and could take his medicine" -- and continued defiance, insisting that the charges against him were part of a concerted effort to undermine a Memphis power base and to steamroller a generation of black leadership in Memphis. He praised Garrett and said he was glad he decided to testify. He encouraged other defendants in Tennessee Waltz to go to trial so people can see how the government acted."
Garrett also encouraged other defendants to fight. I believe in the final analysis if everyone will stand up on their hind legs and fight back, this thing can still be turned around, he said.