No Verdict Yet in City Hall Corruption Case, But Hanging Out at Courthouse Proves More Fruitful Than Watching Scrambled Porn

On a whim, I headed over to the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse yesterday afternoon for the day's last two hours of jury deliberations in the City Hall corruption case. Sure, the odds of catching a verdict while I was there were slim, but I thought I might get a read on some of the jurors as they exited the courthouse, at the very least. Even though it wouldn't be something I could report on, I was just dying to get a sense in which direction those 12 jurors were leaning.

As I headed to U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn's courtroom, I immediately saw Don and Sheila Hill smiling and joking with each other on a bench directly outside the courtroom. Their ability to stay upbeat through all of this has been remarkable to watch. Attorneys Ray Jackson, Victor Vital and Jon Mureen sat on a bench across from them. Turns out they had been waiting it out all day -- and all day Tuesday as well. (The jury didn't deliberate on Monday.) So when the jurors take their breaks and leave for lunch, they walk right past the Hills and their lawyers.

"This is definitely better than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring," Don Hill said.

Vital told me that he'd spent considerable time inside the courtroom where he could hear the deliberations. Not that he could pick up on actual words, but different tones and raised voices. So, of course, I headed into the courtroom, where the bailiff quickly told me not to sit so close to the jury room after I grabbed a seat about two feet from the wall.

It was a very frustrating experience trying to pick up on anything relevant -- kind of like watching the scrambled Playboy channel as a kid, waiting for hours until a boob came into focus. When it finally did, you weren't sure if what you just saw was really a boob or maybe a knee that you convinced yourself was a boob.

Stephen Jones walked in around 3:30 p.m., saying he's waited out a lot of juries and figured someone would be in the courtroom. Jones, who's best known for defending Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and is representing affordable-housing developer Brian Potashnik, sat down next to Don Hill. "So, they passing notes or still voting for foreman?" Jones asked of the jury.

Jones proceeded to engage the Hills and their lawyers in small talk, touching on various aspects of Texas history and mentioning his ties to both the University of Texas and Oklahoma University: He went to UT as an undergrad and attended OU's College of Law. After he left the courtroom, there was a collective WTF moment as everyone pondered why the lawyer for one of the prosecution's key witnesses decided to drop by and play nice.

"Thanks a lot for convincing your client to lie on the stand," someone muttered.

Then everyone began to speculate on what will happen to Potashnik should the jury return not guilty verdicts. The consensus was that Lynn would reject his guilty plea and put him on trial. There was a lot of argument among the lawyers regarding the admissibility of his testimony in this trial, but it's hard to imagine that wouldn't be fair game.

Of course, all of that discussion becomes moot if the jury hands out guilty verdicts, which could come soon, but really, there's just no way to know. Jurors wrapped up 10 minutes early, which can be viewed in different ways. They finished discussing one count or one co-defendant and called it a day; they resolved a point of contention on an issue and thought it was a good stopping point for the day; or they reached final verdicts and wanted to sleep on them.

The jury scurried off before I had a chance to see them. One of the lawyers, Jon Mureen, saw them leave, and as you can imagine, there are plenty of theories on what the defense is seeing that I can't share. They are paying close attention to who's talking to whom coming out of that room, who's going to lunch with whom, etc.

Finally, the most entertaining part of the day was a discussion I had with Ken Carter, Don Hill's consultant. He joked that after an inevitable not guilty verdict, Don could grace the cover of the Observer posing with his index finger raised to mimic the photo we've all come to know so well.


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