A federal jury on Friday acquitted six members of a Spokane Gypsy family on charges of conspiracy and intimidating witnesses who were helping the city defend itself in a pending civil rights suit.
A seventh family member, activist Jimmy Marks, was acquitted of one count of witness intimidation, but the jury deadlocked on two other counts against him.
That deadlock led U.S. District Court Judge Frem Nielsen to declare a mistrial on charges of conspiracy and a second witness intimidation charge against Jimmy Marks.
“I’m going to smoke a cigar, drink a super nice glass of wine and talk to God,” the Gypsy leader said as his family left the courthouse.
Jury foreman Terry M. Cox of Spokane later said the panel voted 11-to-1 to acquit Jimmy Marks of all counts.
“The one holdout juror was convinced in his mind that Jimmy Marks should be convicted of something,” Cox said.
The charges involved a February 1993 family fight in which Jimmy Marks and his father, Grover, were accused of urinating on a car dealer’s license plate at the home of Johnny and Barbara Marks.
Grover Marks was accused of striking Barbara Marks with a cane during the fight and she admitted raising her skirt, considered an act of Gypsy defilement.
The second incident, for which all seven defendants were acquitted, involved a July 1994 family fight that was videotaped by a CBS News crew.
Prosecutors alleged the harassment began after Johnny and Barbara Marks were subpoenaed as defense witnesses in a long-running civil rights suit being brought by other family members against the city and its police department.
Defense attorneys described the incidents as part of a family fight.
U.S. Attorney Jim Connelly said he will decide next week whether to refile the two charges against Jimmy Marks and take him to trial again.
Connelly said he had no regrets or apologies for bringing the case, which may have cost more than $200,000. Attorney Frank Wilson, who prosecuted the case, declined comment.
But Jimmy Marks was bubbling with things to say.
Wearing a Jamaican straw hat, he handed out U.S. flags to passers-by and gave defense attorneys hand-rolled Cuban cigars.
The self-proclaimed Gypsy senator also offered a cigar to the prosecutor, but Wilson declined the gift.
Wilson did shake hands with Marks and the two exchanged smiles before leaving the courtroom.
Charges against Jane Marks, who is married to Jimmy, were dismissed for lack of evidence earlier in the week by the judge. That came at the end of the prosecution’s case in the three-week trial.
She folded her hands and appeared to be praying silently as the verdicts were read. Jimmy Marks broke out crying in the courtroom.
“Those were tears of joy for my family which has been put through all this,” he said later.
Outside the courtroom, he donned a cardboard Burger King crown on which he wrote “Gypsy King.”
Marks also hand-delivered a jar of Gypsy hot pickles to the federal probation officer who monitored his whereabouts since his indictment a year ago.
“Now, I’m going to the Stratosphere Lounge, the highest point in Las Vegas, and have that cigar,” the beaming Gypsy leader said.
The jury foreman praised the efforts of the prosecutor, but said the government had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The jury believes the conduct of Grover, Jimmy and Bobby Marks is totally inconsistent with accepted norms of behavior in a civilized society,” Cox said in a prepared statement.
“However, the jury was not satisfied that the physical violence, harassing phone calls and threats, which apparently did take place, were done with the ‘intent to influence the testimony of a witness in an official proceeding,”’ the statement said.
Cox, a 39-year-old Spokane computer specialist, hand-delivered a copy of the statement to The Spokesman-Review.
The foreman said the all-white jury didn’t believe all the testimony from the prosecution’s star witnesses, Johnny and Barbara Marks, who now live in Tacoma.
“The alleged victims, themselves, were probably guilty of welfare fraud, Social Security fraud and bank fraud, which undermined their credibility,” the foreman said.
He also said statements by the victims may have changed after they were contacted by Assistant City Attorney Rocco Treppiedi, who is defending the city in the civil rights lawsuit.
Jimmy and Bobby Marks, and more than two dozen members of their families, are seeking $40 million in civil rights damages in the lawsuit.
The suit stems from police raids 11 years ago at two Gypsy homes in Spokane.
The jury foreman said intervention by Treppiedi “at critical junctures may possibly explain the conflicting statements made by the alleged victims.”
Cox noted that a Spokane Police report about one of the fights was labeled “family feud.” But the next day, after Treppiedi met with Johnny and Barbara Marks, the case was considered possible witness intimidation.
“Involvement by Rocco Treppiedi in this matter was not viewed by the jury to be that of a disinterested third party,” Cox said in his written statement.
Defense attorney Bob Fischer, who defended Jimmy Marks, said he hopes the U.S. Attorney’s office won’t seek a retrial.
“I think the government has better things to do with its resources,” Fischer said.
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