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Jury came to quick decision on Thomas Spota, Christopher McPartland

Newsday columnist Joye Brown speaks Tuesday on the jury verdict in the federal trial of former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and his former aide Christopher McPartland. (Credit: Newsday / Reece T. Williams)

Decision time

On Tuesday, 9:30 a.m., jurors deciding the case of Thomas Spota and Christopher McPartland were hard at work.

Throughout the trial, the jury, most of whom are women, had earned a reputation for promptness, even in tricky weather.

The panel had reported straight to the jury room.

And, by 9:45, the courtroom was almost empty.

Spota and McPartland, along with their attorneys, spent most of their time at the defense table.

Prosecutors, presumably, were in their offices a few floors below.

At some point, someone at the defense table was heard to say, "There's a verdict?"

And from there, things moved quickly.

First came confirmation, at 10:50 a.m. or so, that jurors, indeed, had sent a message.

The courtroom began to fill. Richard Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, spoke briefly to prosecutors before settling into a seat on the last spectator bench, behind the prosecution table.

Christopher Loeb, whose assault at a Suffolk precinct became the center of the conspiracy and cover-up charges against Spota and McPartland, was across the way in Suffolk County District Court, which sits behind the Alfonse D'Amato federal courthouse in Central Islip.

"A defense attorney was looking at his phone and he told me, ‘There's a verdict,’ ” Loeb said later. "I started running here from there."

The courtroom reporter filed in, followed a short time later by U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack.

The room fell silent as Azrack read the jury forewoman's note aloud.

"We have a verdict," she read.

The note also included a time: 10:43 a.m.

A knock at the door

At 11:03, there was a knock at a side courtroom door — the signal that the jury was about to enter.

Everyone stood, as always, as the panel filed into their seats.

First the front row, then the back.

Jurors did not look at the defense table.

Most didn't look at prosecutors, or spectators in the crowded room, either.

They sat.

We sat.

Then the jury forewoman, when asked, stood and announced the panel's decision.

On the charge of conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding, against McPartland?

"Guilty," came the reply.

 … Against Spota?

"Guilty."

On the charge of witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding, against McPartland?

"We find him guilty," the forewoman said.

 … Against Spota?

"Guilty."

At the defense table, Spota and McPartland, both veteran prosecutors, stood stone still, and stone-faced.

On the charge of obstruction of justice, against McPartland?

"Guilty."

At the prosecution table, there was little movement as well.

 … Against Spota?

"Guilty."

On the charge of being an accessory after the fact to the deprivation of Loeb's civil rights, against McPartland?

"Guilty."

By now, McPartland's face looked pale, and Spota's face appeared to be reddening.

 … Against Spota?

"Guilty," the forewoman said, one last time.

With that, a slew of reporters rushed from the courtroom to spread word of convictions on all counts.

Azrack, meanwhile, turned to the jury panel — which had deliberated some seven hours over two days, following five weeks of testimony and arguments — to thank them for their "time, effort and patience."

Azrack continued, "We all appreciate the sacrifice that you made, especially in a lengthy case, such as this."

At some point, Loeb pulled open the main courtroom door and began to step in.

But he'd missed the verdict.

He stepped back out again.

Later, downstairs in the courthouse lobby, Loeb would say, "These guys ruined so many lives."

Azrack, once jurors were gone, said Spota and McPartland would remain free on bail.

She also told defense and prosecuting attorneys she wanted to see any post-trial motions soon.

With that done, the judge left the bench.

It was 11:07 a.m.

After words

Prosecutors left the room.

But they would appear, along with Donoghue, at a news conference under a hastily erected tent to blunt the wind and rain.

Donoghue said he was not in his position when the federal government decided to prosecute Spota and McPartland. "That decision took guts," he told reporters.

The pair's indictment in October 2017 was announced by Bridget M. Rohde, who was then the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She took over after Robert Capers was asked to resign in March 2017.

"This was a case that very few prosecution teams would have risked," Donoghue said, as rain dribbled onto the right shoulder of his suit.

Meanwhile, at the defense table after the verdict, Spota was embraced by his lead defense attorney, Alan Vinegrad.

McPartland got a hug from his lead defense lawyer, Larry Krantz.

The defense team also passed around a few supportive back pats.

Spota, Suffolk's former district attorney and now a felon, reached across the bar to hold his wife, and then, gently, each of his two daughters.

He was the first to leave, surrounded by family and friends.

McPartland, former head of Spota's government anti-corruption bureau, and now also a felon, walked out with attorneys several minutes later — leaving an empty courtroom behind.

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