In the fall of 2008, Washington-area defense lawyer Charles Daum set out to convince a federal jury that his client was not guilty in a crack cocaine case in which police seized tens of thousands of dollars worth of drugs.
Daum's client was not home when the authorities said they found crack cocaine in his grandmother's one-bedroom apartment in Northeast Washington in February 2008. In this constructive possession case, Daum pinned the blame on one of his client's brothers.
Daum submitted a series of photographs into evidence—including one image that purportedly showed one of Delante White’s brothers bagging up crack cocaine. Daum also presented jurors a lease that he used to argue his client was not living in the apartment where the police said they found drugs, $2,000 cash and other items.
The jury initially voted 7 to 5 in favor of finding White guilty, the jury foreperson said in a recent interview. As the panel continued reviewing the evidence, more jurors joined the guilty camp. The foreperson described the government's evidence as comprehensive, leaving jurors no doubt that White was guilty.
But there was one hold out, and the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of conviction. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman declared a mistrial.
Prosecutors now contend much of the evidence in the drug case was fabricated—staged in an attempt to dupe jurors about which brother had control of the crack cocaine. Two of White’s brothers were charged in 2009 with participating in a conspiracy to obstruct the trial. One brother acknowledged photos were fabricated as part of the scheme, court records show.
Government lawyers Robert Spelke and Donnell Turner of the Justice Department's narcotics section also contend the lease agreement was a fake.
Daum, 64, was indicted last month in Washington federal district court on charges he orchestrated the conspiracy. Two defense investigators, Daaiyah Pasha and Iman Pasha, were also charged in the conspiracy.
Daum’s attorney, David Schertler of Washington’s Schertler & Onorato, said Daum denies the allegations and will fight the case at trial. Schertler said in April he is "anxious for the opportunity to defend Mr. Daum in the same criminal justice system which he has served so long to vindicate both his personal and professional reputation.”
The jury foreperson said in an interview the totality of the evidence pointed to White’s guilt. The photo showing one of White’s brothers bagging up rock cocaine was odd, the foreperson said, but it was not so convincing to lead the panel to believe the police had the wrong man.
But the one man on the panel who did not find White guilty said the evidence in the trial in September 2008 was “too circumstantial” to hold White accountable. "Nothing really seemed concrete,” the juror said in an interview.
The juror said the evidence and testimony “supported that the drugs belonged” to one of White’s brothers. “We heard so much about (White’s) brother,” the juror said. “The entire time it was all about his brother.”
The lead prosecutor in the White case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Karla-Dee Clark, questioned the credibility of the photos during the trial. "For all you know, it could have been taken a few days before this trial started," Clark said in her closing remarks to the jury.
Justice Department officials and lawyers for White’s brothers have declined to comment about the charges against White and the new case against Daum and the defense investigators. Delante White's attorney has also declined to comment.
White's two brothers and his girlfriend are identified as cooperators in the indictment (PDF) against Daum and the Pashas.
In ordering the brothers and the girlfriend detained, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in a ruling (PDF) in April 2009 that it “is a travesty that their manipulation of our justice system achieved a hung jury.”
"The defendants' actions strike at the very core of our system of justice and threaten to undermine the public's confidence in the outcome of a criminal trial in this jurisdiction," Lamberth said. (The case against White's brothers and his girlfriend is now under seal.)
Schertler and the co-defendants’ lawyers, Gladys Weatherspoon for Iman Pasha and Anthony Martin for Pasha's mother, are reviewing hundreds of hours of recorded jailhouse calls that make up part of the government’s case. Daum and the Pashas have pleaded not guilty.
Senior Judge Gladys Kessler of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said at a recent hearing that she will meet with the lawyers on July 5 for a status conference. Daum and the Pashas are free on their own recognizance.