Questions Linger About Siegelman Prosecution
JACKI LYDEN, host:
To another gubernatorial dispute now, this one in Alabama. A federal appeals court heard arguments this week on a case involving the former governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman. Two years ago, he was convicted on federal bribery and corruption charges. Siegelman denies there was a crime and argues the prosecution was politically motivated. NPR's Kathy Lohr has the story.
KATHY LOHR: The appeals court hasn't gotten mixed up at all in the politics of this case. The judges are focusing on the legal issues. Among them, whether Siegelman was corrupt when he appointed the CEO of HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy, to a state hospital board in exchange for a half-million dollar contribution to a state lottery campaign.
But most of the questions focused on jury misconduct. Emails have surfaced showing that jurors had inappropriate communication and may have accessed the Internet. One of the key questions, whether the emails are genuine. Defense attorney Vince Kilborn spoke after the hearing.
Mr. VINCE KILBORN (Partner, Kilborn, Roebuck & McDonald): That's a very troubling issue when a modern-day jury potentially has gone outside the jury room and used the Internet. You can get anything on the Internet. If the emails are authentic, and if there was not a proper investigation, I think that's a automatic new trial.
LOHR: Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin would not talk about the specifics of the prosecution, but he did say this.
Mr. LOUIS FRANKLIN (Acting U.S. Attorney, Middle District of Alabama): We remain very confident about our case, and we have not seen anything that happened today that causes us any concern about our case.
LOHR: Still, questions linger about the prosecution. The same appeals court ordered Siegelman's release from prison earlier this year because of what the judges called substantial questions about the case. Congress is also investigating.
Siegelman has long claimed that Republicans, led by party operative Karl Rove and others in the Justice Department, targeted him because he was a Democrat. Some believe Siegelman was headed for national politics, but instead, he ended up in a Louisiana prison. Siegelman says Congress must continue to seek the truth.
Former Governor DON SIEGELMAN (Democrat, Alabama): It is about who hijacked the Department of Justice, who used it as a political tool to gain and retain power for the White House? And those people who were involved need to be held accountable. All of them.
LOHR: A Republican lawyer from Alabama, Jill Simpson, came forward with details of a Republican scheme to target the former governor. She testified before the House Judiciary Committee last year. Karl Rove has denied any involvement. But 52 former state attorneys general wrote a letter to Congress urging members to investigate.
Mr. GRANT WOODS (Former Attorney General, Arizona): It just had all of the earmarks of a case that was done for political reasons rather than because an actual crime had been committed.
LOHR: Grant Woods is a Republican and former attorney general from Arizona. He says it's obvious politics was involved here.
Mr. WOODS: If you want to look at a corrupt governor, if you want to look at a governor who is engaging in play-for-pay, you look at people like the governor of Illinois. You don't look at someone like Don Siegelman, who really, if you look at the evidence, doesn't seem to have done much of anything here. It's really quite preposterous, this whole case.
LOHR: But some Republicans on the House Committee said Democrats were slandering the Bush administration with unfounded claims of selective prosecution. The Alabama Republican Party declined to comment. Carl Tobias is a law professor at the University of Richmond. He says this is a significant case.
Professor CARL TOBIAS (School of Law, University of Richmond): Some people believe this is symptomatic of all of the problems at the Bush Justice Department. This was a popular governor who was up for re-election. And the concern is that he was then defeated by a Republican because he was under indictment.
LOHR: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals can uphold Don Siegelman's guilty verdict, it can overturn the conviction, or it can send the case back to the lower court. But most question whether a new U.S. attorney in Alabama under a new Democratic Justice Department would pursue another trial. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
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