Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the election fraud case against political consultant Julius Henson, who is accused of helping orchestrate an automated phone campaign urging black Democrats to stay home during the 2010 general election in Maryland.
Prosecutors closed their arguments in Baltimore City Circuit Court by painting Henson as a savvy political operator who knew he was violating the law but wanted to do whatever it took to win. The defense countered with a colorful close that featured strings, scissors and comparisons to pre-Civil War prosecutors enforcing the slavery laws.
Arguing first, Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt asked the jury not to believe assertions that Henson, a longtime advisor to Democrat candidates, was the target of political payback since he was working for a Republican, former Gov. Robert L Ehrlich Jr., in a bid to unseat Gov. Martin O’Malley.
“Mr. Henson went too far, he went way too far and he broke the law,” Davitt said. “Don’t let anyone insinuate that Mr. Henson is the victim.”
Henson, 63, faces two counts of conspiracy to violate election laws, one count of election fraud and one count of violating the authority line requirement for his role in causing automated “robocalls” to Democrat voters on Election Day 2010, telling them they could “relax” and stay home because O’Malley had “been successful” in his re-election bid.
Ehrlich’s campaign manager, Paul Schurick, was convicted on all four counts after a trial in November. He is appealing his conviction.
Davitt used his closing argument Wednesday to criticize Henson’s claim that the calls were a counter-intuitive campaign meant to spur voters to the polls regardless of party affiliation.
“It just doesn’t add up,” he told the jury.
Davitt then said it was likely that when confronted by the media a few days after the calls, the counter-intuitive idea was all Henson could come up with.
“It’s still a ridiculous assertion, but he’s stuck with it,” Davitt said.
Commenting on the many character witnesses the defense called, Davitt told the jury he did not doubt that Henson was normally an upstanding citizen with friends and business acquaintances who thought favorably of him.
“Good people do the wrong thing, and that’s what happened here,” Davitt said.
Then it was the defense’s turn. Henson’s attorney, Edward Smith Jr., attacked the prosecutor’s theory of the case as nonsense.
Smith had a series of palettes set up before the jury with testimony from prosecution witnesses connected by “strings of guilt” to the charges Henson is facing. Using scissors, Smith would cut the strings when he told the jury the state had failed to connect a witness’s testimony to a charge.
“What they’re trying to do is criminalize something they don’t understand,” Smith said.
Smith pointed out that the two voters called by the state, who received the robocall, testified that they were not dissuaded from voting. One of the witnesses said the call angered him to the point he raced out to the polls and also made sure his wife voted.
“He proved the exact point Mr. Henson was making,” Smith said. “It stimulated him to go out and vote.”
Smith criticized the prosecution’s multiple mentions of how much Henson was paid.
“Wow, sixteen-thousand a month — whoa that’s a lot of cabbage,” Smith said, imitating what a juror could say.
He said the prosecution was wrongfully trying to portray his client as someone who would trade his reputation and besmirch his character for a payday from the Ehrlich campaign and its manager, Paul Schurick.
“Greed — the almighty dollar,” Smith said. “Like almighty Judas he sold people’s right to vote.”
Smith told the jury that he recognized Davitt had a duty to prosecute the case — but then connected that duty with the actions of pre-Civil War era prosecutors dealing with runaway slaves.
“They would send the folks right on back to the plantation,” Smith said.
In the final closing argument, Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. “Mike” McDonough reiterated that Henson was not a disreputable character — just someone who crossed the line in this instance.
“He’s not an evil guy, he’s a decent guy who did wrong,” McDonough said.
McDonough told the jury that Henson was an experienced political consultant who knew the rules. And, he said, Henson should have known that even if his client, Schurick and the Ehrlich campaign, asked him to do something illegal he should have known better.
“The devil made me do it is not a defense to a criminal charge,” McDonough said. “The devil made me do it doesn’t get you out of responsibility for what you did.”
After closing arguments, Judge Emanuel Brown sent the case to the jury — made up of seven women and five men, 10 of them black — around 3 p.m. on Wednesday. The jury sent out a note a little after 5 p.m. indicating a wish to end deliberations for the day. Brown sent the jury home and said deliberations would resume on Thursday morning.