Jury To Decide Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' Fate
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. The case against Alaska's Ted Stevens is expected to go to jury today. Stevens is the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate. He's charged with seven counts of lying on his Senate disclosure forms in order to hide a quarter million dollars worth of gifts and services. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG: Today, the judge is to instruct the jury on the law. Then deliberations will begin. Yesterday, prosecution and defense lawyers made their final arguments summing up the evidence that's been presented at this month-long trial. Prosecutor Joseph Bottini led off, telling the jurors this was a simple case of an elected public official who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in free benefits from his friends and then concealed them. Bottini then played a tape-recorded conversation between two of those friends in which one of them, Steven's neighbor, Bob Persons, is heard making this remark.
(Soundbite of tape-recorded conversation)
Mr. BOB PERSONS (Proprietor, Double Musky Restaurant): Catherine says, Ted gets hysterical when he has to spend his own money.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PERSONS: So, I want to keep it down because - you know, and the other flip side of that is he gets hysterical because he can't really afford to pay.
TOTENBERG: The prosecutor said that Stevens did not report the gifts over the legal limit because the press would have been all over him and so would the Senate Ethics Committee. When it came to the Stevens' home renovation, said the prosecutor, the senator established an elaborate paper trail asking for bills while at the same time claiming he did not know that his friend, oil industry executive Bill Allen, was absorbing tens of thousand of dollars in costs.
Prosecutor Bottini, you know the expression pay me now or pay me later? Well, he adapted the pay-me-never option. The prosecutor next played for the jury a snippet of a conversation that the FBI tape recorded between Stevens and his friend Bill Allen. At that time, Stevens knew he was a target of the federal investigation.
(Soundbite of tape-recorded conversation)
Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): You got to get - get a mental attitude that these guys can't really hurt us. You know, they're not going to shoot us. It's not like Iraq, you know. What the hell. Worst can be done - the worst that can happen to us is we run up a bunch of legal fees and might lose, and we might have to pay a fine, might have to serve a little time in jail. I hope to Christ it never gets to that.
TOTENBERG: Defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan, his voice alternately rising and falling to a whisper in outrage, called Allen a bum. You can't sleep at night, he told the jurors, if you give a verdict based on testimony from Allen who won a pledge from prosecutors not to charge his children as a condition for his co-operation. The prosecution's case, he said, is a twisted version of reality. If you look at life through a filthy, dirty glass, then the whole world looks dirty. Stevens, he said, is a decent honorable man who's devoted his life to public service. The senator left the home renovation to his wife, Catherine. She paid the bills, all those she got.
And the senator repeatedly sent Allen emails asking for any outstanding bills. Defense lawyer Sullivan repeatedly pointed to one email from Stevens to Allen in which the senator said, you owe me a bill, remember? Friendship is one thing, compliance with the Senate ethics rules something different. The defense lawyer said that both Catherine and Ted Stevens thought they'd paid all the bills and that therefore there was nothing to report on the Senate disclosure forms. Said the defense lawyer, you have an innocent man in your hands.
Prosecutor Brenda Morris got the last word in her rebuttal. Wow, she shouted. Were we at the same trial? The government proved that the defendant accepted extravagant gifts year after year after year. And as to Mrs. Stevens, said the prosecutor, she's still recovering from the bus he threw her under at this trial. All that send-me-a-bill stuff, said prosecutor Morris, that was seven days after another senator was censured by the Ethics Committee for accepting gifts. This was just trying to create a paper trail to cover his butt.
The defendant admits in his own handwriting, she said, that he owed Bill Allen money. The only thing not in his handwriting is the check. He blames Bill Allen. He blames his wife. He blames anyone he needs to. He even claims that a $2,700 chair that's been in his home for seven years is a loan. Stand up to him, said the prosecutor, because behind all that growling and righteous indignation, he's just a man. Make him responsible. Find him guilty. The jury looked hard at Morris. When defense lawyer Sullivan spoke, many looked away. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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