CLEVELAND — Jurors here were shocked Tuesday afternoon when the defense in the Bobby Thompson case rested without calling a single witness.
Not even Thompson himself.
It was the latest twist in a lengthy trial that has been alternately boring and bizarre.
Thompson, 66, has been charged by Ohio officials with fraud, money laundering and identity theft in connection with his operation of U.S. Navy Veterans Association in Tampa.
For the past five weeks, jurors have listened to prosecution witnesses testify that Thompson siphoned money from charity accounts, concocted phony directors, offices and receipts, and stole the identities of more than a dozen people. Over eight years, the charity raised more than $100 million nationwide, with more than $3 million from Ohio residents.
With the state resting its case last week, the jury pool of four men and 11 women were prepared to hear from the defense.
But other than a stack of documents to review during deliberations, the jury got nothing.
In his instructions after the announcement, Judge Steven E. Gall emphasized that defendants have no obligation to take the stand.
"And the fact that he doesn't should not be considered by you," he told jurors.
Closing arguments are set for this morning.
Before the jury was called, Joseph Patituce, Thompson's court-appointed lawyer, told the judge that Thompson was exercising his constitutional right to remain silent due to his "concern regarding his physical and mental abilities."
Patituce said his client was especially concerned about being cross-examined by the prosecutor, Ohio Assistant Attorney General Brad Tammaro.
Thompson's change of heart came as a surprise to everyone, including his lawyer. For weeks Patituce had been saying that his client, a Harvard-educated lawyer, planned to take the stand. During the trial, Thompson seemed engaged, writing notes on a yellow legal pad and passing them to his attorney.
Though he has been jailed since April 2012, Thompson was always professionally dressed in a black suit from Goodwill, pressed shirt and tie, his salt-and-pepper hair carefully arranged in a trademark pompadour.
Tuesday morning, however, Thompson reportedly refused to leave his cell in the isolation block at Cuyahoga County jail. When sheriff's deputies escorted him into a courtroom full of reporters and cameramen after more than an hour's delay, Thompson's shirt was untucked and unbuttoned, his hair in disarray, his eyeglasses gone.
He told the judge he needed time to clean up before deciding whether to testify. After a 45-minute recess, Thompson was brought back to the courtroom. Though his shirt was buttoned, Thompson still looked unkempt.
Within minutes, his attorney told the judge that Thompson would not take the stand.
During a break in the proceedings, Thompson's lawyer said his client was found last Tuesday pounding his head against the steel bars and concrete walls of the court's holding cell. Thompson declined medical attention and was found competent by the jail's psychiatric staff.
Thompson ran Navy Veterans from a dilapidated apartment in Ybor City from 2002 until mid 2010, raising more than $100 million in donations nationwide. When questions arose about the charity and he was indicted by states including Ohio and Florida, Thompson became a fugitive.
Authorities learned that he had stolen the Thompson identity from a man in Washington state and was using more than a dozen other stolen identities. His real name is John Donald Cody, a former military intelligence officer who had been on the FBI's most-wanted list, charged with fraud, since 1987.
Thompson faces 24 charges that carry possible sentences ranging from a minimum of 10 to more than 80 years.