A few hours after she and 11 other jurors found Don Hill and his four co-defendants guilty of 23 of the 29 charges against them in the Dallas City Hall corruption case, Rowlett resident Nedra Frazier gave me a behind-the-scenes peek at the deliberations. Much like my lengthy interview with Don and Sheila Hill, the majority of my conversation with Frazier didn't make it into the cover story in the current paper version of Unfair Park because of space constraints, so I've again pulled together the highlights in the form of a Q & A after the jump.
Frazier, a 43-year-old wife and mother of two children, had planned on spending the last few months trying to find a new job to replace the one she held for 10 years at Avaya, a telecommunications company, which had been shipped overseas to India at the end of January. Instead, a last-minute challenge in June by the defense alleging that the prosecution had been eliminating jurors based on race resulted in her addition as the last of four black jurors selected.
Because the case involved several defendants and numerous counts, Frazier endorsed a plan to discuss each count as it appeared on the jury's verdict form, which juror Rachel Secore of Dallas confirms. Each count was read out loud, followed by the definitions of the counts, the count as it appeared in the indictment and then the definitions once again. "There was a lot of discussion about the definitions. That part we took very seriously," Secore says.
The jury spent the most time discussing count 20, Frazier says, eventually finding both Hill and Darren Reagan not guilty. "There just wasn't enough evidence on that one." After that decision, jurors took a second look at approximately four other counts, especially regarding Sheila Hill's and Rickey Robertson's involvement. "There were several we had to go back and just really, really think about it and talk about it."
You sound hesitant [to talk]. I'm sure you're ready to be done with it.
It was just overwhelming today, that's all.
What did the jury see as the most damning evidence against the defendants?
Just looking at all the facts, like the video surveillance, the transcripts, testimony -- all those were the factors. So, we had what, over 2, 300 hundred that we had to go through and just make sure and make our verdict.
Was there any one or two things that you saw in particular that really illustrated that there was corruption going on?
There were a lot of things. There were a lot of conversations. A bunch of surveillance. There were a lot of facts out there, details, specifics. Like I said, we had over 2, 300 phone conversations that took place, so you had a bunch of evidence.
What was most difficult about the process of handling so many counts (29) and five defendants?
You take conspiracy with that count and you have to determine what is conspiracy in the count. OK, what did this person do? Why would we think that was conspiracy? So, because you had everybody's opinion, they're like, "No, that's not conspiracy." So you had 12 people with different versions of conspiracy, so you find yourself writing down the information. What does the law say right now -- what's conspiracy? And the documentation they gave us was wonderful -- the juror's instruction book, the indictment book -- all that had the definition in there. So we just had to go back to the board and say, "OK, this is conspiracy. This is bribery. This is extortion," and compare it with the evidence we found with that count.
What was your impression of Don Hill on the stand?
I don't know. I think everybody's like, "Wow." Was it a good idea? I don't know. We didn't think he was gonna testify. We had no idea who was on the list. So when he did get up to speak, we were stunned. We had no idea that he was going to get up and testify. I was just shocked. The one thing that stuck out -- I'm pretty sure in your mind and everybody else's mind -- was the fax machine. (laughs) The fax machine. (laughs) I'm sorry. (Secore says Hill's appearance was not a surprise because the defense referred to Hill's upcoming testimony throughout the trial. Additionally, Hill's attorney, Ray Jackson, revealed in his opening statement that Hill would be testifying.)
The fax machine stuck out most to you?
I'm pretty sure everybody because that was the talk of the day, just talking to everybody. (I followed up on this in a separate conversation, which is provided at the end.)
That he lied about it?
It really wasn't a big factor in the case. I couldn't understand what was ... You had a fax machine. The question wasn't about the fax machine, it was about if you received a document.
So the fact that he was willing to lie about something like that concerned you?
Well, that and just some other things in the testimonies. It was so much, what, we listened to 44 testimonies? Oh, my gosh. And he was up there for what, three days I believe?
It was six actually.
Yeah, so it was a lot, back and forth. He's a very intelligent man. He answered the questions. We were able to get a lot of information from that. Did it hurt? I don't know. Like I said, the talk was the fax machine. (laughs)
That was it?
Other than that, I feel like he presented himself well. He talked and explained every question that was asked, but I think that's the main thing that stuck out was the fax machine. It did because they made a big deal out of it.
Again, what stuck out? That he wasn't willing to acknowledge that it was his?
Or even why he even said, "I don't have a fax machine at my home." I think it should have just stuck as, "I didn't receive the documents." And then when he came back to say, "I don't have a fax machine," it's like, "That wasn't one of the questions."
What about his explanation of the infamous $10,000 drop-off at Friendship-West? Did you find it plausible?
(sighs) Just the way it was brought out behind the church -- it was always behind the church -- I'm like, OK. And the way it was given to him and what was written on the envelope: contributions. When you listen to the defense and prosecutors, it was kinda swaying back and forth. And when he got up to testify and said, "I didn't know Reagan was coming to the church." And, of course, when [prosecutor Marcus Bush] played the tape (laughing), it showed where [Reagan] was going to meet him at the church.
So that was important to you?
Everything was important. Yes, every document, every video, surveillance photos. Everything was important -- every testimony. And that's why we took our time and made sure that facts were there.
What about the theory from the defense that this goes on all the time? For example, Laura Miller got contributions from Brian Potashnik before voting for his projects, and Bill Fisher was getting his projects approved by James Fantroy while handing out security contracts to him. Do you feel like they got any traction with that?
I don't think so. They weren't on trial -- Laura Miller ... I don't know. I really don't know ... I don't think anybody really just looked at it. Of course, it was mentioned several times, but we had to look at the facts that were in front of us with the defense. So I didn't take that into any factor at all.
How did you view Bill Fisher as a witness?
(sighs) Um, wow. Pretty brave, I guess. (laughs) You have to be pretty brave and pretty confident to get on the stand and testify after what, four years of video taping and phone conversations? I don't know. I don't know. Wow. I don't know. (The time period for the taping and phone conversations was less than one year.)
Obviously in your verdict you found a certain amount of what he said to be trustworthy.
We didn't really look at ... Some of the surveillance we looked at when they were at The Loft, but Bill wasn't a lot looked at for his [testimony]. It was just a bunch of phone conversations. A bunch of phone conversations. Documents, e-mails. So Bill didn't play a big, big part of what we looked at.
Did you view him as someone who was upset with Potashnik and wanted to get back at him?
I don't know ... I don't know if it was a game or retaliation. I don't know what it was because when Brian was up on the stand, he wasn't angry. Bill didn't seem upset with Brian or angry. I didn't know what was going on. Kathy Nealy wasn't upset with Bill, so you didn't know what to think.
How did you view Potashnik as a witness?
I think all the witnesses were credible. We listened to all 44, and they all played a big role in this. One didn't stand out more than the others. We looked at everybody and listened to everybody's testimony.
But, as far as you're concerned, was there a witness that stuck out to you in particular?
Not really. Like I said, there were so many people, and everyone had a different experience, a different version. It was just amazing to me the different experiences they had with the defendants, so that's why one didn't stick out more than the others because everybody's experience was totally different. Totally different.
So when you guys were deliberating, you weren't necessarily having disagreements about specific ...
There was a lot of disagreeing; trust me on that one.
What were the disagreements about -- witnesses, e-mails, surveillance?
I think it was more about the counts, or let's say the definition of the counts -- if the person actually committed bribery, extortion.
What were the arguments against that there was a conspiracy being committed?
The main one that kinda sticks out right now is Rickey Robertson because he wasn't a major player. He was just behind the scenes pretty much but was a player. His intentions probably going in were good, but he didn't know the players or didn't know exactly what he was getting into, and I think as he started doing business, different transactions, that's when it started ... He got involved, let's say that. So I think that one is the only one that really sticks out in my head.
As far as Hill being tabbed by the government as the kingpin, did you guys buy into that?
Not really, no.
You didn't think he was leading everything?
I think everybody played their part individually. Everybody knew what they were doing. Just take Reagan. He had his own thing going. Lee had his thing going. Everybody played their own individual part.
You didn't necessarily see Hill as the leader though?
If he was, yeah, there's a lot of decisions he can make when it comes to City Hall, but a lot of things he didn't need City Hall for the other things that the other individuals were doing.
So how does it feel to be part of this major trial?
It's very emotional. It's overwhelming ... Today was very emotional for me and for a lot of us. Even though we didn't communicate, we were in the same room for four months. Just looking at the families and the defendants, it was very, very emotional. And it still is very emotional.
(A couple days later, I followed up with Frazier.) You mentioned the one thing that stuck out about Don Hill's testimony was the fax machine.
It wasn't one of the factors in our decision.
I understand. You said it was the "talk of the day," that other jurors felt the same way.
Well, I think the public itself. Everybody just made a big deal out of it between the defendants and the prosecutors. Well, the prosecutors made a big deal out of it. I guess they took it and ran with it. It was like, "Wow, we got him." Like I said, it really wasn't an issue.
When you said it was the talk of the day, were other jurors seeing it the same way?
I don't know. We really didn't discuss it ... When it came to deliberations, it didn't even come up.
When you said it was the talk of the day, it gives the impression that you had been discussing it with the other jurors. (This would have violated an order from Judge Barbara Lynn prohibiting jurors from discussing the case prior to deliberations.)
Oh, no. No. It was the outside people. I was talking about the public, not the jurors -- the people in the courtroom, the media, the prosecutors.
So, you were following along with what was going on in the media? (Again, this would have violated Lynn's orders.)
No. When we went outside to take breaks or go to lunch, people kind of elaborated on it. No, I wasn't allowed to read anything in the paper.
I guess that's what I'm trying to get at -- how you were understanding it to be the talk of the day?
Just hearing people in conversations.
So, you heard other people talking about it?
Yeah, other people just kind of talked about it in passing. You hear people saying, "The fax machine."
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The reason I bring it up is because I've heard some discussion that maybe -- and not necessarily you -- some of the jurors had been discussing the case with each other prior to deliberations. Did you witness any of that?
No, I didn't.
No. When we went to lunch, we didn't talk about it.