Deliberation: What Exactly is the Jury’s Job at John Wiley Price’s Corruption Trial?

John Wiley Price's trial is held in Chief U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Lynn's courtroom inside the Earle Cabell Federal Building.

John Wiley Price’s trial is held in Chief U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Lynn’s courtroom inside the Earle Cabell Federal Building.

By Ashley Stanley
Special Contributor

As the courtroom began to fill up Tuesday morning with pastors, community activists, friends, foes, and citizen onlookers like myself, the media was scrambling with technology issues in the overflow room on the 13th floor. It appeared the connection to the monitors wasn’t working, and media folks like Jim Schutze, Shaun Rabb, Kevin Krause, and James Ragland were fortunate enough to grab seats on the back row before the live show began.

Court started just before 11 a.m. with Judge Lynn reading 22 pages of general and specific instructions to the jury, telling them their duty was to deliver a verdict solely based upon the evidence presented. Evidence is the sworn testimony of witnesses and exhibits provided.  She said, “A verdict should yield a decision beyond a reasonable doubt, but not all possible doubt.”

It seems as though these instructions should have been given in the beginning of the trial. Maybe they were, but if the idea is to begin with the end in mind, keeping this information in the forefront to help alleviate the cloudiness of an attorney’s rabbit trail could give some assistance to the deliberation process. At least, that’s what I believe.

What is direct versus circumstantial evidence? Judge Lynn said the law makes no distinction and the jury’s job is to decide while considering all the evidence, but they do not have to accept it as true. “Believe all, some, or none,” she said. “Does the witness seem honest? Do they have a good memory? Was the evidence seen or heard?” Judge Lynn instructed the jury to consider all of these questions to determine its accuracy.

The jury’s job is to think about the witness and their credibility, not the amount of witnesses presented on one side or the other. Accept expert opinion or reject it. Consider their education, their experience and decide whether the government proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. “Do not be concerned about punishment. Rely on your memory, not your notes. Recollection is to be considered as fact,” Lynn said.

WAIT! That’s a bit scary. Then why are we taught in school to refer to our notes for tests? Shouldn’t we then be graded on our ability to memorize the lecture?

This case is not about rules and codes. They do not constitute law. This is not a question about ethics, but rather an intent to purposefully, knowingly, and willfully engage in an act to conspire, bribe, and defraud the government, but the overt act must have been committed after July 23, 2008, because of the statute of limitations in Texas. It should be easy to prove, right?

The closing arguments from the government lacked the gusto it needed to convince me. Maybe tax evasion? If Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price bought and sold African art with the intent to profit, that’s a business, not a hobby, and it should have been reported. My guess is the jury, at the very least, will convict him for this, leaving the government disappointed. However, he will lose his commissioner seat and serve time in federal prison. Isn’t that what we as taxpayers ultimately want?

Deliberations began this morning, so it’s now in the jury’s hands to decide his fate.