Politics » Politics Feature

Trial Ends With Ford Attorney's Apparent Pitch For Hung Jury




In his closing argument to jurors Wednesday morning, Mike Scholl, former state senator John Ford's defense attorney, echoed the previous day's "you have the power" close of chief prosecutor Tim DiScenza, but with a significant difference: "You have a tremendous power...not just as a juror, but as an individual....Let your voice be heard."

Especially as repeated in several variations, it sounded like a patent appeal for someone to hold out against conviction of Ford on charges of bribery and extortion so as to create a hung jury.

Scholl also branded witness "L.C. McNiel," the pseudonymous agent who posed as an agent of the bogus computer firm E-Cycle as someone who, in his dealings with Ford on surveillance audios and videos, is "always lying." Of the agent's private calling as a minister, Scholl said, "That's even scary - a guy that lies that well!"

In a reference to what was generally acknowledged to have been DiScenza's overlong presentation from the day before, Scholl promised to spare jurors the ordeal of another point-by-point citation of exhibits that had been seen and discussed several times over.

He concentrated instead on broad characterizations ("John Ford is a part-time legislator and a full-time consultant') and noted that FBI agent Mark Jackson, one of the architects of the "Tennessee Waltz" sting, had made a full-time job of the project, while undercover informant Tim Willis, a convicted felon with a "disrespectful and condescending" demeanor, had netted $245,000 for his efforts on behalf of the sting.

Noting a pointed discussion by the agents of Ford's finances and personal circumstance, Scholl heaped ridicule on the government's contention that Willis' vow to attend Ford's birthday party to "make [Ford] our man" referred to asking for his help in gaining access to the Barbecue Festival of 2004.

Memory lapses?

Scholl said the government in its presentation had ignored three whole months' worth of recordings of encounters with Ford before he was induced to accept a paid relationship with E-Cycle - many in which he expressed interest in gaining opportunities for his daughter Kemba from McNiel, who posed as someone involved with show business.

A key early trip to Miami in E-Cycle company was advertised to Ford by his hosts as having to do with a black film festival, Scholl said.

Noting the fact that both Willis and McNiel had experienced frequent lapses of memory while testifying, Scholl sarcastically noted, "'Can't recall' is the answer for 'I don't want to tell'."

Scholl minimized the government's contention that Ford once threatened to kill Willis and referred to a teasing remark from McNiel to Ford threatening something similar at a point when the agent was wondering if the then senator intended to stand by his obligations to E-Cycle.

Scholl also scoffed at the notion that a Rolex given Ford by developer Rusty Hyneman could be regarded as "predication" of Ford's disposition to be corrupt.

"Don't let the government pile on and pile on....Let your voice be heard," Scholl repeated as he wound up after speaking for something over 30 minutes.

Prosecutor Craig rebuts

After a brief morning recess, assistant prosecutor Lorraine Craig gave a response and re-summation, once again covering much of the ground covered by DiScenza on Tuesday. Mocking Scholl’s decision to eschew systematic recourse to documentary evidence in his close, Craig said, “No wonder he didn’t show you lots and lots of tapes, because it was ludicrous to suggest he [Ford] was doing anything except being paid for legislation.”

Speaking at the top of her voice, Craig heaped scorn on Ford for betraying his office, saying, “He works for us…for the public good,” and insisting that “the government” is not the “vast and impersonal force” depicted by Scholl – only people like herself, DiScenza, and the FBI agents whom the jury had seen, all working on behalf of the public at large.

Ford was not some “unwary innocent” lured into transgressing, Craig said, but someone used to fine hotels and “big fancy things” and the other accoutrements of a corrupt public figure used to the pursuit of luxury.

“He never once says no. Never. Never says something like, ‘Gee, that might not be legal’,” said Craig, who characterized Ford as being “so clueless” about the E-Cycle bill he was paid to have passed that agent Joe Carson (she may have meant Mc Niel) had to supply him with “talking points” before Ford presented it to the legislature.

As for the much-discussed Tim Willis, Craig insisted, “Nothing in this case depends on Tim Willis.” Scholl’s concentration on him was meant to distract jurors from focusing on the actual evidence, she said. And McNiel was no liar, she insisted. “He was fulfilling a role...And is there something wrong with his being a minister?”

”The government has spent a lot of money on a lot of investigations,” Craig conceded, “but what price do you put on free government?...How priceless is it to know that every time a dime of your money is spent…it’s in the public good, not to line somebody’s pocket?”

Speaking dismissively of Scholl’s call for jurors to speak “as individuals,” Craig made a point of urging them to speak instead “on behalf of a collective.” There was “no reasonable doubt,” she said. “Do justice in this case. Return a verdict of guilty on each and every count.”

Judge Breen's charge to jurors

When, after 45 minutes or so, Craig was done, Judge Daniel Breen then gave his formal instructions to the jury, after which they were expected to adjourn and begin deliberations on a verdict.

In his charge to jurors, Judge Breen reminded them in detail of the legal definitions of evidence and of their obligations to consider it in good faith, spelling out the restricted meaning of terms like "reasonable doubt" and "circumstantial evidence" and including at one point a suggestion to exercise caution in evaluating the testimony of paid informant Willis.

He then read each and every count of the indictment against Ford, once again spelling out in detail what jurors' obligations were in reviewing it.

Judge Breen took special care in advising the jury on the nature of entrapment. The defense, which he has allowed in this case, rests upon two requirements, he said -- that the subject was unwilling to commit such a crime and that the government then induced him to do so.

He also made a point of saying that it was sometimes necessary for government agents in a case of this sort to pretend to be criminals themselves and for the government to employ paid informants in the collection of evidence.

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