The team of defense lawyers struggled to keep poker faces and trialobservers glanced at each other in surprise, as U.S. District JudgeDonald M. Middlebrooks, who had just stepped briskly to the bench onthe afternoon of June 7, summoned jurors into the courtroom.

That wasn’t what anyone had expected. Middlebrooks had said he wouldrule that day on the defense motions to acquit the defendants � arequest routinely made after prosecutors finish presenting their case.Judges almost always deny them � and they do so out of the hearing ofthe jury.

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