Trial tipping in Chuck Turner’s favor Ex-prosecutor says case is a ‘horse race’

Trial tipping in Chuck Turner’s favor
Ex-prosecutor says case is a ‘horse race’
By Marie Szaniszlo and O’Ryan Johnson  |   Saturday, October 23, 2010  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Politics

Photo by Matthew Healey
A defiant Chuck Turner fought the law, and after a week of bombshell revelations and prosecution missteps, the feisty 70-year-old city councilor appears to be winning.

Turner faced down federal prosecutors in a week of sensational testimony in the Roxbury politician’s corruption trial, culminating yesterday in a heated outburst between the prosecution and its reluctant star witness.

“It was perceived to be an open-and-shut case, and now it’s a horse race,” said Timothy M. Burke, a Needham attorney and former Suffolk prosecutor. “These are the types of events that can have a cataclysmic effect not only on the credibility of a witness, but on the prosecution’s entire case. Credibility is paramount in winning the hearts and minds of the jury.”

Federal prosecutors got off to a rocky start Monday when they admitted in their opening statement that the FBI paid their key witness, businessman Ron Wilburn, nearly $30,000 to secure his cooperation.

The very next day, jurors sat through the fiasco of a jittery, hourlong video that never clearly showed money changing hands between Wilburn and Turner.

On Thursday, Wilburn admitted he never gave Turner a $600 bribe because he got cold feet.

After yesterday’s testimony — the fifth day of the trial — a jubilant Turner laughed outside his Roxbury home and declared, “I’m innocent!”

“I look at it from the perspective that for 20 hours I have to listen to them talk about what I know I didn’t do,” he told the Herald. “I think my lawyers did a good job poking holes in their argument.”

Gleeful supporters rallied around the embattled councilor and insisted his stature is growing as he fights for his freedom.

“This is racial profiling of the worst sort,” Carol Walker of Dorchester said. “They have united him with the community, and they have made him 10 feet taller than he was before.”

The first week of testimony in the federal corruption case wasn’t a complete loss for the prosecution. Wilburn testified yesterday that Turner’s secretary asked whether he had money when he showed up at City Hall in September 2007 to offer the city councilor the $600 bribe on the FBI’s behalf.

During questioning yesterday by the prosecution, Wilburn, who, like Turner, is black, turned combative.

“I was in arrears $6,000 in rent . . . and you hung me out to dry,” the retired businessman told Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. McNeil. “You exposed me in the newspaper as a cooperating witness. You cut off my income. I did all the dirty work for you, and you cut me off.”

McNeil, however, showed jurors a copy of the agreement Wilburn signed with the FBI. The document refers to him only as “CW,” for cooperating witness. Under cross-examination, Wilburn acknowledged that he actually revealed his own identity to a newspaper columnist and gave state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson bribes totaling about $6,000 as early as 2003, four years before he secretly recorded her pocketing alleged bribes for the FBI. He also said he paid off police working details at Mirage, a Roxbury nightclub his protege owned during the 2004 World Series.

In an e-mail yesterday, Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said the department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office began investigating the alleged bribes before yesterday’s testimony. She declined to comment further, saying only the investigation remains “open.”

Turner’s defense lawyer, Barry P. Wilson, also chipped away at Wilburn’s credibility, getting him to acknowledge that at least two of his associates were incarcerated. Wilson also pointed out inconsistencies in some of Wilburn’s statements, including ones he made about his income.

At one point yesterday, a juror interrupted the trial, asking Judge Douglas P. Woodlock if it was “proper” for Wilburn’s court-appointed lawyer, Robert Sinsheimer, to be signaling him from the gallery.

“No,” Woodlock answered, and resumed the trial.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1290838

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