Turner Sealed His Own Conviction

By Adam Reilly

I wasn't at the Moakley Courthouse today when the Chuck Turner verdict came down, but I did spend several days at the Boston city councilor's trial. And I strongly suspect that the outcome -- guilty on one count of attempted extortion and three counts of perjury -- would have been different if Turner hadn't insisted on taking the stand in his own defense.

When former FBI informant Ron Wilburn was on trial, Turner's attorney Barry Wilson did a masterful job painting Wilburn as a two-bit hustler who simply couldn't be trusted. Since Wilburn's testimony was crucial to the prosecution's case — in particular, his assertion that he gave Turner the $1000 that he got from the FBI on August 3, 2007 — this was a major victory for the defense.

But then, despite Wilson's advice, Turner insisted on taking the stand in his own defense. And he did to his own credibility what Wilson had recently done to Wilburn's. Among other things, Turner said he couldn't remember what Wilburn had pressed into his hand three years ago — or even remember meeting Wilburn at all, even after viewing the videotape of their sit-down. For good measure, Turner also claimed that surreptitious handoffs of cash — via what he called a "preacher's handshake" — happen all the time when you're an elected official.

So why did Turner talk? There are two answers that make sense. First, even when Turner's clearly in the wrong, he has a hard time admitting it. (Take the memorable case of those fake Iraq-rape images.) So it's no surprise Turner ignored his attorney's advice and spoke when he probably should have kept silent. 

But when Turner talked to the press after his first day of testimony, he also made it clear that he thought he'd lost already. "I will never be innocent in the minds of the public," Turner said. "They have destroyed a reputation that took me 45 years to build of integrity and service to the community." With this sort of mindset, maybe it was just too much to ask Turner to soberly weigh the pros and cons of testifying.

Chuck Turner has always been a bundle of contradictory traits: he's smart but naive, capable of both self-destructiveness and canny self-preservation. He's also been a consistently fascinating public figure at a time when Boston city politics feel pretty bloodless. Whether or not you agree with the jury's verdict, this is a sad coda to his career.

About the Author
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.


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