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The Suburbanite
  • Akron jury wrestles with words in Boccieri-threat case

  • Jurors posed three questions about wording in the criminal charges and the jury instructions. After receiving the third question, U.S. District Court Judge David D. Dowd Jr. sent the panel home for the night, telling them to resume deliberations this morning.

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  • Jurors know that a Tennessee man called U.S. Rep. John Boccieri’s office in Canton on March 4, but they have to determine if what the man told one of the congressman’s staff was a threat.
    The jury in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio spent Thursday afternoon sorting through evidence and the charges against James L. Schmidlin, 40, of Cleveland, Tenn.
    Federal prosecutors indicted Schmidlin on two counts, contending he threatened to burn Boccieri’s house and that his call constituted telephone harassment.
    Jurors posed three questions about wording in the criminal charges and the jury instructions. After receiving the third question, U.S. District Court Judge David D. Dowd Jr. sent the panel home for the night, telling them to resume deliberations this morning.
    Schmidlin — who grew up in Camden, about 25 miles east of Dayton, and holds a master’s degree in divinity — doesn’t deny calling Boccieri. He said he started calling congressmen late in 2009 and again earlier this year during the heat of the national debate over the health care reform bill.
    But Schmidlin challenges the prosecution’s claim that he threatened Boccieri.
    WHAT WAS SAID?
    Jurors have to decide what was said during the conversation that occurred between Schmidlin and Katie Jones, the Boccieri staff member who answered the phone. The phone call lasted only 44 seconds, according to records obtained by FBI agents.
    Jones testified that Schmidlin threatened to burn down Boccieri’s house and refused to give his name when asked. Jones said she took the threat seriously and reported it to Capital Police, which prompted the investigation.
    Schmidlin testified he had a conversation with Jones, but that he never made a threat. Schmidlin contends he told Jones that if the health care reform bill passed, he would help “burn this house of cards” in reference to booting supporters of the bill out of Congress.
    A MISUNDERSTANDING?
    During closing arguments Thursday morning, U.S. Public Defender Edward Bryan suggested that Jones misunderstood Schmidlin and forgot parts of the conversation. Bryan said Schmidlin “knows what he said and Ms. Jones mistakenly believes he said something else.”
    Assistant U.S. Attorney Duncan Brown countered that Jones quickly reported details of the call, sending an e-mail to supervisors in Boccieri’s Washington office.
    “It was a threat from the beginning. It was yelling. It was swearing. It was threatening,” Brown said of Schmidlin’s call.
    Defense lawyers used a timer to try to show that Schmidlin’s version of the conversation would have lasted 44 seconds, while Jones’ version lasted only 27 seconds.
    Brown countered that jurors should consider a 94-second call Schmidlin made the same day to U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va.
    Page 2 of 2 - FBI Agent Michael Sirohman testified that Mollohan’s staff identified Schmidlin as an angry caller who didn’t make any threats. Sirohman said the caller discussed how he voted for Democrats, but would stop if the health care bill passed.
    Schmidlin testified that he had a similar conversation with Jones. But Jones said Schmidlin never discussed his politics and only made the threat.
    JUDGE MEETS WITH JURORS
    Before closing arguments started, Dowd spent an hour questioning jurors separately in his chambers.
    He then met with lawyers and Schmidlin. Dowd did not explain the concerns that prompted his decision to interview jurors.
    Defense lawyers debated asking for a mistrial. Dowd told them that Schmidlin had to decide if he wanted to make a formal request for a mistrial.
    After mulling the idea, Schmidlin said he would leave the case in the hands of the jury that had been selected.