The jury in the federal corruption trial of John Wiley Price begins deliberating his fate Wednesday morning. The longtime Dallas County Commissioner faces charges of bribery, mail fraud, and tax evasion. His assistant Dapheny Fain also faces charges.
Closing arguments was a day-long affair. The testimony’s been described as detailed, boring – even confusing. On Tuesday, government and defense attorneys distilled eight weeks of the trial into just a few hours.
Prosecutor Katherine Miller started off. For 10 years, she said, Price doubled his salary while leaking information to political consultant Kathy Nealy to help her clients who sought contracts with Dallas County.
Miller said Price compromised his office and his integrity. She says he took bribes in the form of money sent through the mail, as well as cars owned by Nealy and real estate through deals with Nealy and Price assistant Dapheny Fain – as well as a business owned by Fain.
Prosecutors allege Price hid from the IRS the $1 million he gained over those years.
Former federal prosecutor Matt Orwig is now a partner with Winston and Strawn in Dallas. He says the tax case is the strongest of the charges leveled against Price.
“And [it’s] the hardest for Commissioner Price’s team to have to deal with,” Orwig said. “That’s an uphill climb, I think, for the defense. But again, they only have to sew doubt. They don’t have to prove anything. The government has the burden of proof. And those jurors will just have to decide whether the government met that burden.”
Three defense attorneys tried sewing that doubt during closing arguments.
Fain’s lawyer Tom Mills said his client conspired against no one, did nothing illegal and disclosed tax documents about a large purchase. Mills said she wanted full disclosure and transparency.
During the trial, prosecutors weren’t always transparent. On several occasions, they didn’t turn over government evidence to the defense.
Orwig says those mistakes may not ruin the government’s case, but they could have an impact.
“It’s just one more data point,” he said. “They see the government isn’t infallible and therefore could have made some mistakes and the defense lawyers are good enough to exploit that to its fullest, and there is reasonable doubt.”
During closing arguments, Price attorney Chris Knox did his best to capitalize on those mistakes. He said after an 11-year investigation, the prosecutors’ disclosure of evidence at the last minute showed the case’s weakness.
Price faces 11 counts – and decades in prison. Orwig says even if the jury agrees with the government on some but not all counts, prosecutors would call it a victory.