Actress Nicollette Sheridan arrives at the courthouse as the trial of her… (Valerie Macon / Getty Images )
Was it a conspiracy that went all the way to the top of ABC? Or was it the case of an exaggerating actress out for revenge?
Nicollette Sheridan's wrongful-termination suit against the creator of "Desperate Housewives" and a studio wound toward a conclusion Wednesday as jurors heard closing arguments offering vastly different interpretations of the case.
As the tall, blond actress and Marc Cherry, the balding, bespectacled writer who invented the world of Wisteria Lane, looked on from opposite sides of the courtroom, their attorneys debated for hours over what led to the 2008 death of Sheridan's character.
The actress' lawyer told jurors that Cherry killed off bed-hopping real estate broker Edie Britt in the fifth season in retaliation for her complaint that he had struck her in the head in a dispute over a line of dialogue.
Attorney Mark Baute said studio and network executives rushed to cover up for Cherry and protect the $1-billion "'Desperate Housewives' money machine."
"It's all about the benjamins for management. It's not about a woman getting hit in the head," Baute said.
He repeatedly termed a human resources investigation that cleared Cherry a "whitewash" and said employees, including high-level executives, who testified that Edie's death was plotted months before falsified their accounts on the stand and destroyed evidence to aide a powerful Hollywood colleague.
"They all got together and created a cute and superficial paper trail that suited their needs," he said. Their message to Cherry, he said, was, "Don't worry, everyone agrees with your version of events, boss man."
Cherry sat motionless as the attorney called him an "obvious liar" with a vindictive personality. When Cherry's lawyer got an opportunity to address the jury, he told jurors that Sheridan's case brought one word to mind.
"Desperate," attorney Adam Levin said.
He said there was no evidence of a conspiracy and noted that 10 witnesses said Cherry decided to kill off Edie months before his run-in with Sheridan. He emphasized that five of the witnesses no longer worked with Cherry or co-defendant Touchstone Television Productions, and had no reason to perjure themselves.
"What incentive does [witness and former ABC Entertainment chief] Steve McPherson, who is not even in the entertainment industry anymore, have to lie to you?" he asked jurors.
Levin showed the jury transcripts of trial testimony in which producers, writers and executives recalled Cherry seeking approval from the studio and network to kill off Edie in May 2008, four months before the incident on set.
Cherry contends he only tapped Sheridan's head to demonstrate a stage direction, and his attorney said Sheridan's own phone records suggested the incident was minor.
"Would a reasonable person who felt she had been violently walloped or hit check her voice mail?" he asked. He recalled the testimony of an executive producer that Sheridan initially only wanted a bouquet of flowers, hardly, he argued, appeasement for an unprovoked assault.
Sheridan, who earned $4 million a year as well as back-end profits, is seeking economic damages of $5.7 million. The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for less than two hours before departing for the evening.