Stevens Judge Blasts Prosecution Over Evidence

Posted October 2, 2008 at 10:21am

The trial of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was abruptly adjourned Thursday, after the defense informed Judge Emmet Sullivan that the government handed over late Wednesday night an FBI document providing evidence that could be helpful to Stevens.

Defense attorney Brendan Sullivan took to the podium to demand that the judge declare a mistrial, pointing to an FBI summary that he received late Wednesday of an interview in which star prosecution witness Bill Allen suggested that if he had sent bills to Stevens for the renovations of his home, Stevens would have paid them.

Stevens is charged with seven counts of filing false statements over an eight-year period to conceal the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts — primarily in the form of renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska — from the now-defunct oil services firm VECO and its executives, including Allen, the company’s CEO who began testifying Tuesday.

The government’s case against Stevens is based on the idea that he knew he was receiving items of worth and that he chose not to report those gifts on his annual disclosure forms because he wanted to avoid public scrutiny.

Stevens’ lawyer argued that the opening defense argument would have been dramatically different had he possessed the government’s own evidence that Allen believed Stevens would have paid any bills he was sent.

“The integrity of this process has been breached,” Brendan Sullivan said. “It must stop.” He said the government’s case is premised on the notion that Allen did not believe Stevens would have paid any bills for the renovation, but “Today they give us a document which says Bill Allen believes they would have paid.”

Prosecutor Brenda Morris apologized profusely for failing to provide the document to Stevens earlier, but she said it was a simple mistake, not an intentional attempt to undermine the defense.

“I’m standing here as humbly as I know how,” Morris said. “I don’t blame you for being upset.”

Morris argued that while the document had not been timely provided to Stevens, the general assessment of Allen’s testimony had been provided to the defense. Morris argued that the defense case has not been prejudiced because “by the luck of God, Mr. Allen is still on the stand” and the Stevens’ legal team can still question Allen.

Judge Sullivan replied “the fair administration of justice does not rely on the luck of the draw or a lucky day.”

Judge Sullivan said he was very suspicious of the timing of the revelation of the evidence that may help Stevens’ defense.

“It is difficult for the court to believe that the government overlooked this exculpatory information,” the judge said. “It strikes me as very unusual that the government found this material at a time when it could still be used … it strikes me as very curious that this information just surfaced.”

If it wasn’t intentional, the judge said, “it was gross negligence.”

“I find it unbelievable that this was just an error,” he said. “It strikes me that it was probably intentional.”

Morris replied that if the government had intended to withhold the document from Stevens, “it would have never seen the light of day.”

Judge Sullivan told the attorneys that he would dismiss the jury for the day to allow time for a hearing on Stevens’ motion for dismissal. “Maybe they will come back [Friday] for further service, maybe they won’t,” he said.

At one point during the debate, Brendan Sullivan’s voice quavered and he swung his arms as he tried to describe what he called a miscarriage of justice.

“My heart is beating twice as fast as it should be in a 66-year-old man,” he said. He turned to Morris and said she should “come back up here and dismiss this case.”

Judge Sullivan scheduled a hearing for 4:30 p.m. Thursday on Stevens’ motion for to dismiss the case.