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The jury walked back into U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner's federal courtroom as it had on eight days during the trial, when stacks and stacks of colorful paper from McCloud's house had been displayed behind the prosecution's table. Now the jurors would declare what the paper represented. Was it 33 million doses of LSD, as argued by assistant U.S. attorney Michael Oliver? Or was it simply 33,000 sheets of perforated paper, plain and simple, as declared by veteran San Francisco defense lawyer Doron Weinberg?
The defense had had high hopes throughout the deliberation, but at the jury's sudden unanimity, the talented and grandiose Weinberg knew to expect the worst, as did his assistant, Susan Matross. McCloud, his brother and Rutledge followed their lead.
Ah, but what about miracles? Ever met a lucky man? When Fenner read the decision -- not guilty on both charges of conspiracy to distribute LSD in Kansas City and elsewhere -- gasps and sighs of relief bounced around the defense table, between Rutledge and Kelly McCloud, and then resounded to the bench, until Fenner shushed the reaction. To the courtroom's left, Oliver, accompanied by federal agents, looked drained.
"It was a miracle," McCloud said as he paced outside the courtroom moments later. "A miracle."
And what better end to this trial than a miracle? "This is better than Court TV," said the most faithful attendee, a rejected juror who just couldn't stay away. He'd heard a government expert testify that the DEA couldn't afford cameras. A New York art critic had sworn that, yes, even the FBI logo can have artistic merit. A secret agent from Scotland Yard had presented an unintelligible tape recording of McCloud not selling drugs. And the richly paneled courtroom with its soaring ceiling had hosted cameos by Salvador Dali, Mr. Bill and the Beatles.
Strange? Almost as strange as the two overriding issues in United States v. Mark McCloud: How the government managed to try an eccentric San Franciscan in front of a Midwestern jury, and how the decision to convict or acquit ultimately became a question of art.
The government of the United States said McCloud was responsible for a tremendous amount of the country's LSD traffic. Within his San Francisco home, McCloud would design, perforate and treat thousands and thousands of sheets of LSD blotter, totaling millions of doses, the prosecution theorized. He supposedly would pawn this off in bulk to a chosen few, such as his friend Kathleen Brown, who would make contact with her own regional clients, such as Garen Armstrong and Matthew Skelly in Kansas City. Every month or so, Armstrong and Skelly would receive about ten LSD sheets (roughly 10,000 doses) from Brown and then sell pieces of that to foot soldiers (to borrow melodramatic drug-movie lingo) around the Midwest. These pushers then distributed LSD to users, specifically at raves and concerts, who would gobble up the tiny paper squares and spend approximately six hours in a perceptual promised land. Or they would have a bad trip, in which case they would feel like hobos in the netherworld.
If a drug operation is run correctly, no participant knows more about it than necessary, according to the government's conspiracy theory. McCloud knows Brown, but not Armstrong and Skelly, who in turn know others who are unknown to McCloud or Brown.