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Judge denies Stevens mistrial

October 09, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A federal judge Wednesday refused another defense request to declare a mistrial in the corruption case against Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, instead deciding he would tell jurors to ignore disputed portions of the government's evidence.

The ruling came after Stevens' attorneys accused prosecutors of improperly withholding information that was favorable to Stevens and by using business records they knew were faulty to try to sway the jury. The defense has filed motions four times in three weeks asking U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to either dismiss the case or declare a mistrial.

"This is a criminal case with a career on the line here," defense attorney Robert Carey argued at a hearing. "The government has responsibilities. Time and time again, they have not lived up to them. Enough is enough."

Stevens, 84, is accused of lying on Senate forms to conceal more than $250,000 in renovations to his cabin and other gifts from Bill Allen, the former chief of a giant oil pipeline company, VECO Corp.

Prosecutors had introduced accounting records showing that a VECO worker logged hundreds of hours on the cabin project. But according to his own grand jury testimony, he was in Oregon much of that time -- something the defense only learned about this week.

Though he ultimately kept the trial on track, Sullivan told prosecutors he was disturbed by the accusations and sternly demanded an explanation.

"Why is it so hard to admit that the government knew those weren't truthful records?" he asked prosecutor Nicholas Marsh. "All along the government knew that was a lie."

Marsh argued that the government never portrayed the business records as airtight.

"We looked at this in a different light," he said.

"It was a very dim light, counsel," the judge responded. "A very dim light."

Along with his decision to strike parts of the business records, Sullivan said he would instruct the jury today to ignore evidence and Allen's testimony about what prosecutors called a sweetheart car swap: a 1964 Ford Mustang and $5,000 from Stevens for a new $44,000 Land Rover purchased by Allen.

Defense attorneys had sought to show on cross-examination of Allen that the Land Rover was worth far less, only to have prosecutors surprise them by producing a check the witness used to pay for the vehicle. The judge found that the check should have been disclosed earlier.

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors called an FBI agent as their last witness to introduce e-mails about the home improvements.

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