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Power on trial: All eyes on the jury

U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack addresses jurors during

U.S. District Judge Joan Azrack addresses jurors during jury selection for the federal corruption trial of Ed Mangano, Linda Mangano, and John Venditto in Central Islip on Monday, March 12, 2018. Photo Credit: Aggie Kenny

Reading time

The courtroom was nearly empty Thursday when U.S. District Judge Joan M. Azrack finished a two-hour reading of instructions to the jury.

The panel will begin deliberations Friday.

The sound of air conditioning coursing into the room died at 5 p.m. — 15 minutes before Azrack finished reading the complex instructions involving multiple charges against Edward Mangano, Nassau’s former county executive, Linda Mangano, his wife, and John Venditto, Oyster Bay’s former town supervisor.

Once Azrack was through, lawyers gathered for a bench conference — a white-noise machine concealing their exchange — as jurors slowed their preparations to leave the courtroom for the day.

Azrack’s instructions capped another long day for jurors, who first on Thursday had heard Venditto’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo, finish his argument. Agnifilo was followed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Mirabile.

At 3:10 p.m. when jurors filed into the room, they found what looked to half-inch stacks of papers on their chairs.

Azrack, in starting the instructions, gave them the option to listen, or read along.

Most read along.

On the defendant’s side of the room, Venditto, reading glasses on, read through his copy. Also at the table, Edward Mangano and Linda Mangano, glasses off, followed along as well.

Mangano’s parents and Venditto’s wife sat in spectator rows on the defendant’s side. Robert Ripp, an Oyster Bay resident and a frequent Venditto critic who has followed the proceedings from Day One, was among spectators on the prosecution side.

The room was silent as the judge read off instructions on how jurors should consider the 34 counts in the indictment — some of which apply to multiple defendants.

At 3:21 p.m., Azrack took a sip of water, moments before she read instructions on how jurors should consider hypothetical questions on allegations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission against Venditto posed by prosecutors.

By 4:38 p.m., Edward Mangano and Linda Mangano were having a brief conversation.

At 4:41 p.m., a juror flipped through pages Azrack had yet to read.

At 5:10 p.m., a defense attorney yawned, as two courtroom spectators nodded off in their seats.

And at 5:15, to visible relief on all sides, Azrack finished reading the final page of her charge.

Jury spotting

It’s not unusual for court spectators to try and read a jury, particularly during summations. Were they more attentive to Kevin Keating, Edward Mangano’s attorney, than John Carman, Linda Mangano’s attorney? To prosecutors? To photographs, emails and text messages projected on courtroom screens?

This is the stuff of conversations in hallways and elevators during court breaks, and the Mangano/Venditto trial is no different.

Fact is, there’s no way to know what jurors are thinking.

Still, day in, day out and especially in the hours before a jury begins deliberations, observers tend to look for:

Folded arms.

Raised eyebrows.

Eye contact (or no eye contact) with the speaker.

Eye contact with each other.

Smiles.

Chairs rocking.

Notes being taken. Laughing.

The courtroom will know what it all means only when the jury delivers a verdict.

The government strikes back

Agnifilo, Venditto’s attorney, made a point as he finished his summation Thursday morning of letting jurors know that defense attorneys and prosecutors respect each other.

That came after three defense arguments that slammed prosecutors, federal investigative techniques, FBI agents and the U.S. Justice Department.

If Agnifilo’s comment was intended to be an olive branch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mirabile, in her final argument, picked it up and hurled it right back.

Of Keating, Mirabile said, “Mr. Keating can invent all the facts he wants but the facts are indisputable.”

Referring to Agnifilo’s arguments, Mirabile said, “He can wave his arms all he wants, but ... ”

And referring to Carman’s argument that the government had not provided him with false statements Linda Mangano was alleged to have made, she said, “John Carman had 34 pages of notes ... and his fake pretending that he didn’t is a bad act.”

For the most part, Carman and Agnifilo kept straight faces.

Keating, Mirabile’s most frequent target, appeared to be steaming.

Taxpayer impact

In his argument, Agnifilo told jurors that despite all that the government had alleged, the Town of Oyster Bay continues to thrive.

He referred to the town’s beaches, its parks and a magazine that a few years ago named Oyster Bay as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States.

Agnifilo attributed the town’s good fortune to “that man, John Venditto,” pointing to the defense table where the former town supervisor sat.

Mirabile, in her summation, rejected Agnifilo’s picture. She told jurors about town officials who took bribes. She noted the town’s bond rating, which only recently recovered from junk status.

“Your government at work, ladies and gentlemen,” Mirabile said.

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