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Judge in Barry trial: U.S. case strong, jury wrong

The judge who presided over Washington Mayor Marion Barry's drug trial slammed the jury Tuesday for handing up only one conviction, saying it failed to properly find guilt on 12 other charges because of personal agendas. In unusually candid remarks for a judge on a case under appeal, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson described the case against Barry as the strongest he had seen in eight years on the bench and said he believed some jurors apparently could not put aside personal feelings about the popular mayor.

Barry was convicted in August on one misdemeanor charge of using cocaine in a sensational trial that featured videotape of a "sting" operation by federal agents who lured him to a hotel room with a former girlfriend.

The jury acquitted Barry on a second drug possession charge and deadlocked on 12 other charges, including felony bribery and perjury.

The case was tried under a politically and racially charged climate that divided the city. Barry, active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, had claimed he was the victim of a "political lynching" by a white, Republican prosecutor.

Jackson on Tuesday praised prosecutors and defense attorneys alike for a "splendidly tried" case he said "came about as close as possible to perfect justice" in a racial atmosphere in Washington that is "about as bad as it could get."

But he said he was distressed by the single conviction.

"I am not happy with the way in which the jury addressed the case," Jackson told a gathering of Harvard University Law School students. "My own assessment of the case is that there were two counts upon which the jury could very easily have acquitted.

"In 12 counts . . . I think the evidence was overwhelming," he said. "I don't think the government would have brought a case unless they had thought they had an overwhelming case, and in eight years of presiding over criminal cases I have never seen a stronger government case."