Reporting Charlie Langton
DETROIT (WWJ) The jury verdict is in on the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption trial — not from the jury, but on the jury.
Roy Nowitzke and Ed Franks, experienced trial watchers who have sat through nearly every minute of the Kilpatrick proceedings, weighed in on the eve of closing arguments on the jury’s state of mind and what they’re likely to do.
Both believe a guilty verdict is coming, and will arrive fairly quickly. ”I think that the government proved its case,” Franks said.
There are 33 counts against Kilpatrick alone, numerous others against co-defendants including his father Bernard Kilpatrick and pal Bobby Ferguson. There are 75 pages of elaborate jury instructions, Langton said, which seems to add up to a long deliberation.
But Franks thinks the jury has heard enough to size up their decision quickly.
“I think a lot of them probably have their mind made up,” Nowitzke said.
“This jury has been very active,” Franks added. “(They have) stopped the trial to ask questions … They have asked the people to compare exhibits on the slides so they can compare information … The jury is directly into the case … It’s perfect, I would think, for the prosecution.
“You haven’t seen any strong rebuttal from the defense.”
The jury is evenly split between white and black members, which is an unusually egalitarian mix, Langton said. Franz said it’s a testament to the judge and her deft handling of the case.
But there were some surprises, including what many considered the lackluster testimony of former Kilpatrick best friend Derrick Miller. So how did Miller, who was anticipated as a star witness, rate? Not as much as people hoped, the watchers agreed.
“I think Sharon McPhail ended up being the star witness,” Nowitzke said. “I think she helped the defense better than he did, and she discredited Emma Bell.”
Bell, a former Kilpatrick booster, employee and close friend of the family, riveted the courtroom with testimony saying Kilpatrick insisted on bribes and kickbacks.
“Have you seen anyone so far in the Kilpatrick administration whose hands were clean?” Franks asked, later adding, “If you can convince me that someone could go and take money from poor, black kids and senior citizens, the most vulnerable people in the community … Pay your wife for not working, re-do your office, beautiful bathroom, then tell the man that you want a chill-out room and these poor kids running around in the street, no place to play, but that’s what you want And you want me to believe that you wouldn’t do these things?”
Did Miller prove there was a mob-style racketeering effort going on in City Hall?
“Not really,” Nowitzke said.
Franks disagreed, saying, “What more does it take?”
Nowitzke added the jury seemed not to take as many notes during the short defense presentation as they did during the long prosecution case, which took up most of the nearly 70 days of the trial.
“If most of the jurors have slacked off (at the end) it means most of the jurors have come to a decision,” Franks said, adding, “I think this jury has seen enough.”
He added Kilpatrick seemed jolly during the trial, laughing and joking with his co-defendants. “For me, that doesn’t look good to the jury,” Nowitzke said. “You’re dealing with your livelihood, your life.”
Franks said Kilpatrick settled down the last few days of the trial and seemed more serious, especially after a CPA testified about the illegalities of using civic funds for things like yoga lessons.
Wire and mail fraud alone, even without a racketeering conviction, is a 20-year felony, Langton said.
“I’ve been somewhat very disappointed in the leadership of Detroit,” Franks said about the trial overall, adding that he voted for Kilpatrick, who was once a charismatic leader. “I was taken advantage of.”
Nowitzke said it’s also important that former Water Department head Victor Mercado already pleaded guilty. He sat at the defense table for the first month of the trial, then disappeared, which Nowitzke said had to plant a seed in the jury’s mind that something happened even though they’ve been barred from hearing about his plea.
“Another nail in the defense,” Franks said.
But could Kilpatrick still walk out a free man? Franks thinks he could be exonerated on a few of the charges.
“The defense attorneys have done a good job, considering what they had to work with,” Nowitzke said.
The civic fund, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that was shown to go to personal use for things like golf clubs, yoga lessons expensive trips, is the most powerful evidence, he added. Racketeering is harder to prove.
Franks added some days of the trial were so unsettling he had to drive around for hours afterward and digest what he had heard.
“If you’re sitting on the jury and you have witnessed this, what feelings will you have?” he asked.
Nowitzke predicts closing arguments could be the most exciting part of the trial, saying in five months of testimony and 80 witnesses they’ve probably forgotten a lot of things. And the lawyers will refresh it all.
“I’ve got to where I don’t trust juries, I’ve seen so many trials where there was overwhelming evidence (and no conviction) … (But) I think Kwame is going to be convicted, not on all charges … The’ll all be found guilty, but not on all charges.”
He predicts deliberations will take a week.
“I didn’t see anything the defense had done to deny anything the government has said,” Franks said, adding, “To me, it was just a one-sided show. If you can’t convince someone you didn’t do anything … You can’t win. I expect everybody to be found guilty.”