Halfway into their eight day of deliberations, jurors in the eight-week federal corruption trial of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price emerged at last to deliver a stinging rebuke to prosecutors – not guilty verdicts on the most serious charges of bribery and mail fraud.
The jury told the judge it was unable to reach verdicts on income tax evasion charges. Jurors found Price’s administrative assistant, Dapheny Fain, not guilty of the two charges against her – lying to the FBI and helping Price hide money from the IRS.
Price had no comment on the verdicts beyond, "I'm going back to work," as he walked from the courthouse to Founders Square building on Commerce Street surrounded by media.
Price's lead attorney, Shirley Baccus-Lobel, echoed his words. "The commissioner and Ms. Fain are going back to work. Hallelujah citizens. ... I feel that the jury's verdict was entirely consistent with the evidence."
All smiling Fain said was that she feels "blessed."
The not guilty verdicts on mail fraud charges will spare Chief U.S District Judge Barbara Lynn from one onerous task; out of the jury’s hearing, she had already warned the government she probably would toss out any guilty verdicts on those charges because she felt the government had done such a poor job proving them. This way, the jury tossed them out for her.
Technically the government can try Price again on the tax charges where the jury was unable to agree. Those charges, however, grew organically out of the government’s bribery case against him, which is now off limits because Price has already defeated it. On their own without the underlying bribery charges, the tax charges could prove too weak a limb for the government to reach for, especially since the last thing the feds need now is another whipping from Price.
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"I would think logically that they won't proceed, but I don't know how they make their decisions," said Fain's attorney, Tom Mills. "We strongly guessed that the jury was going our way, but you don't know. "
The core of the case against Price and is co-defendants was based on what government lawyers repeatedly described to jurors as a “stream of benefits” consisting of cash, automobiles and land. The defense argued that the stream flowed both ways. They said Price often lent money to his co-defendants, and defense lawyers were able to show jurors transactions that the government seemed to have overlooked or redacted proving that the money went both ways.
The judge now must decide whether Kathy Nealy, Price’s political consultant, should be tried. Judge Lynn separated Nealy from the Price trial after Nealy argued she should never have been charged because of a prior immunity agreement.
If Lynn decides to try Nealy, the Price verdicts theoretically can’t be introduced as evidence or argument for her defense. But that only works if the government can find jurors who never watch television, listen to the radio, read the newspaper or go online.