Rude To Look Down During A 'Preacher's Handshake'

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Jurors begin their second day of deliberations in the federal trial of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner Friday. Turner faces one count of attempted extortion and three counts of making false statements to an FBI agent related to what the government alleges was $1,000 bribe.

Wearing a Jerry Garcia tie and his hair in a bun, attorney Barry Wilson playfully rubbed Chuck Turner's bald head just before the proceedings began. Maybe it was for luck. No sooner had they sat back, the prosecutor thrust forward — on attack from the start.

"On Aug. 3, 2007, this man took $1,000 from Ron Wilburn," prosecutor John McNeil told the jurors, wasting no time.

On Wednesday, Turner had testified that though he didn't remember anything about the alleged bribe, he wouldn't have looked down if someone was giving him cash. In the culture of his district, Turner said, that was considered a "preacher's handshake" and it would be disrespectful to look.

"You know, ladies and gentleman, Chuck Turner is no preacher. He's a politician," the prosecutor said.

"As for the preacher's handshake — there was nothing godly about it. It was the oldest handshake in American politics: the sly slip of cash, the greasing of the palm."

"Have you seen my client?" asked Wilson outside the court.

Wilson, who looks like a cross between Danny DeVito, Jesse Ventura and Jerry Garcia, was dumping another load of gravel on the government's case.

"My client talks with how many people a day?" Wilson said.

The reason Turner couldn't remember the government's witness Wilburn, the attorney said, was because Wilburn was so insignificant. And to know Turner, the chairman of the Green-Rainbow Party, who drives a 15-year-old car held together by duct tape, is to know someone who, "is not a man consumed by money. I mean, look at him. Does it look like he dresses at Saks Fifth or Nieman Marcus," Wilson said.

No, it does not.

"Chuck Turner cares about what he does. Chuck Turner is real," Wilson said.

In a courtroom that has been packed with Turner's supporters during the trial, white grandmothers in straw hats, Buddhist monks, unionists, housing activists, African-American retirees, ex-cons and a man in a Keffiyeh, Turner alternately whispered and shouted to the jurors.

"Mr. Turner was attempting to get a hearing. He's doing what he does every day. His job. His job. He helps his constituents. He does his job," he said.


"There has to be a knowing, knowing, that Mr. Turner knew that what he gave him, whatever he gave him,that he was being asked to do something beyond, you know, because of his job," Wilson said. "They didn't prove it. The case was from hunger."

Wilson told the jurors the government hadn't proved the key element, that Turner knowingly took a bribe or later lied knowingly. As for Turner's apparently damaging testimony in his own defense, Wilson said to the jurors that if Turner was making it up, he certainly would have come up with a better story than the one he told: that he couldn't remember.

"Basically you stuck with the Mark Twain defense in there," I said to Wilson.

"You play the hand you're dealt," Wilson replied.

"And the Mark Twain defense is?" I asked Wilson.

"If you tell the truth, it's not a problem if you don't remember," he said.

That's "selective amnesia," McNeil told the jurors. "Chuck Turner draws a magical blank to Ron Wilburn, a truly magical blank. He forgets the unforgettable Ron Wilburn."

If you exclude Turner, the defense didn't put on any witnesses — Turner in effect called himself as a witness, to his attorney's dismay.

But before the jurors in his closing, Wilson presented his own theory: Wilburn skimmed $800 off the $1,000 that the FBI says it gave him to give to Turner, so Turner got only $200 in that hand-off he says he can't remember.

"Ridiculous," the prosecutor shot back with disdain. "And in any event the defense never entered any evidence or testimony to that effect."

Outside, the courthouse afterward, Turner said he was glad.

"I'm so glad it's over," he said.

"Well it's over, but it's not over, isn't it," I said to Turner.

"Well it's over for me. I mean, I've wanted the trial to take place, I've testified, and so now it's just up to the jury to make the decision," Turner said.

"The FBI offered him an opportunity to commit a crime," the prosecutor had told the jury in closing. And Turner "gripped it and grabbed it."

But Turner seemed stoic.

"If I'm found guilty I'll go to prison and do prison organizing," he said.

This program aired on October 29, 2010.

Headshot of David Boeri

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



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