Jury Fails to Embrace Traficant
Jury Fails to Embrace Traficant
Apr. 12, 2002
CLEVELAND (AP) _ Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. tried to win his federal corruption trial using a defense based on bombast, courtroom theatrics and a theory that the government was out to get him.
But in the end, substance won out over style.
``Traficant knew as well as anybody if the case was focused on evidence, he would lose,'' said Marc Dann, a lawyer and legal analyst in Youngstown. ``He needed to create a sideshow.''
The nine-term Democrat beat federal bribery charges in 1983 by doing just that, and in the process launched a political career as a maverick.
Traficant, who was sheriff in Mahoning County at the time, persuaded a jury that he took money from mobsters to overlook gambling, drug trafficking and prostitution as part of a secret sting operation.
The day after the verdict, newspapers ran photos of Traficant hugging the jury foreman.
This time the jury failed to embrace Traficant's antics.
``We felt he was handicapped that he did not have an attorney,'' said jury forewoman Helen Knipp.
The jury _ which did not include anyone from Traficant's congressional district _ was the difference this time, said Tom Flynn, a professor of communication at Slippery Rock University, who has studied Traficant for years.
``People expecting a repeat of his 1983 trial didn't see that this year. ... There is no way a Mahoning County jury would convict him of anything,'' Flynn said.
Traficant also tried to bait U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells into an adversarial relationship and make her part of the supposed conspiracy that the government is out to get him, Flynn said.
But Wells' sense of humor and warmth made her seem like a real person to jurors, Flynn said.
Knipp said the jury thought Wells ``was wonderful'' in the way she handled the case.
``We all decided that she should be voted for sainthood,'' said fellow juror Jeri Zimmerman.
Traficant was found guilty of all 10 federal charges, including racketeering, bribery and fraud for taking bribes and kickbacks from businessmen and his own staff.
The jury was aware of Traficant's contention that the charges were the result of a government vendetta, even though he was prohibited from making that defense, Zimmerman said. She said the possibility that his claim was true came up during deliberations.
``Some of the jurors felt it may have been a government thing. It was discussed whether the government was after him. But it was not part of what we ruled,'' she said.
Dann said prosecutors made it tough for Traficant by keeping their cool and not engaging him in a fight.
The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, said he was satisfied that the case was made by the evidence.
``It's our job to make sure it doesn't get personal, and this is not personal, and it's never been personal,'' he said. ``The evidence was there and the jury found it.''
Dann said Traficant did succeed in some areas of his defense.
``He did a very good job in the first half of his closing argument in terms of organizing his thoughts and arguing that there is no physical evidence against him,'' Dann said.
But Traficant missed an opportunity in his cross examinations by not asking more leading questions that suggest an answer, Dann said.
``With a decent lawyer half or more of these counts could have ended up with an acquittal or a hung jury,'' he said.