By George Anastasia
Not a peep.
Not one question. Not one request for documents. Not a word.
They jury in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers completed its fifth day of deliberations this afternoon without offering any sign of where things stand. One day after declaring an impasse on some issues, the panel went from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. without any indication of where they were heading and of whether the impasse was still in place.
"There's just no way to know," said one member of the defense. "We could speculate all day and be totally wrong."
The silence, however, has fostered all kinds of speculation in both the defense and prosecution camps. Lawyers have been keeping vigil along with family members and friends who have spent four full days (the panel began deliberating late last Thursday afternoon) in the 15th floor hallway outside Judge Eduardo Robreno's courtroom.
In dismissing the jury this afternoon, Robreno reminded the panel of six women and six men that should deliberations continue beyond Friday he intended to have them work on Saturday. Several jurors nodded their heads, indicating that they were well aware of that possibility.
Whether that will add impetus to the next two days of deliberation was one of the things being speculated on in the hallway today. More important were questions about what issues had caused the logjam referred to in a jury note late yesterday afternoon.
Is the panel hung up on one charge? One count? One defendant? There's just no way to know.
Supporters of the prosecution case have taken heart in the length of the deliberations. If the jury had bought into the defense argument completely -- that the government's case was built around the testimony of drug dealers and one dirty cop and that none of it was independently corroborated -- then the conventional wisdom is that the panel would have been back with not guilty verdicts all around.
But that speculation does not rule out one or two jurors holding out for some convictions in the face of a strong push by the majority to acquit.
Conversely, there is some speculation that the jury may been splitting on both defendants and issues. The two primary targets for conviction in that scenario are Thomas Liciardello, who has been described as the leader of the rogue unit for six cops by prosecutors, and Linwood Norman, who was fingered in what is considered one of the more serious offenses in the case.
All six defendants are charged with racketeering conspiracy in a case built around the central allegation that over a six-year period beginning in 20006, they stole more than $500,000 in cash, narcotics and other valuables from drug dealers who were being arrested and then covered their crimes by falsifying police reports.
One former member of the unit, Jeffrey Walker, who was arrested in a separate sting operation set up by the FBI and charged with stealing $15,000 from a drug dealer, was a key prosecution witness during the six-week trial. Walker's credibility and motivation were challenged repeatedly by defense attorneys as was the credibility of most of the drug dealers called by the government as witnesses.
To date the questions asked by the jury have focused on three episodes. The most serious, and the one that may be the area of impasse, had to do with the alleged robbery of drug dealer Orlando Ramirez who testified that when he was arrested by Walker and Norman on Sept. 6, 2009, he had four kilos of cocaine.
Walker, confirming details contained in the indictment, testified that he falsified the arrest report and claimed one kilogram of cocaine had been seized. He said he and Norman then arranged to sell the other three kilos and split the profit with Norman's nephew, a drug dealer who arranged the sale.
"It's one thing to be back there (in the jury room) arguing over whether you believe the defendants pocketed a couple hundred dollars," said a defense supporter (in actuality the amounted pocketed over six years was in the tens of thousands of dollars). "But it's another thing to deal with the question of whether Norman put three kilos of cocaine back on the street and made a profit doing it. That's big."
One of the pieces of evidence the jury asked for two days ago were phone records that tended to support Walker's story.
There is great irony in the possibility that Norman has the most to lose in the case. Walker testified at length about how he did not want to implicate Norman, the one member of the Narcotics Field Unit who did not abandon him. Walker testified that Liciardello and the others ostracized him because of personal problems (marital strife, drinking and medical issues) and work habits (Walker was described as lazy and incompetent. He admitted that he once lost his service revolver and at times was drinking on the job or fell asleep while on surveillance).
Norman, he said, once took a bullet for him during a street altercation with drug dealers and Norman, he added, was the only member of the unit who would ride in a car with him after he had fallen out of favor with the others. He and Norman are also the only African-Americans implicated in the case.
His deal with the federal authorities -- a deal that he hopes will result in a lighter sentence than the 20-year term he is potentially facing -- required him to tell all that he knew about the corruption within the unit, Walker told the jury. He admitted that he held a grudge against Liciardello. But Norman, he said, was not someone he wanted to hurt.
The jury will resume wrestling with whatever issues have caused the impasse when deliberations resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.