UPDATED: March 26, 2014 11:35 a.m.
RICHMOND, Va. — Lawyers for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife have asked a federal judge to order separate trials in their public corruption case.
In motions filed late Tuesday night, defense attorneys said Maureen McDonnell wants to testify on her husband’s behalf but would not do so if she also is on trial. The attorneys also said that in a joint trial, Maureen McDonnell would invoke marital privilege that would prevent the former governor from testifying about their private conversations.
“Permitting the Government to prosecute this married couple together — as it currently seeks to do — will severely constrain Mr. McDonnell’s ability to introduce relevant, admissible and exculpatory evidence at trial,” the former governor’s attorneys wrote in a motion that was supported by Maureen McDonnell in a separate filing.
The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his products. They have pleaded not guilty, and a jury trial estimated to last five weeks is scheduled to begin July 28.
According to the 14-count indictment, the McDonnells opened the Executive Mansion for a launch party for a Star Scientific product, arranged for a meeting between Williams and a state health official and talked up the benefits of his company’s dietary supplement Anatabloc. Among the gifts Williams gave the McDonnells were a Rolex watch, designer clothes, golf outings and $15,000 for catering a daughter’s wedding reception, the indictment says.
McDonnell’s lawyers wrote that Maureen McDonnell “is obviously the essential link” in prosecutors’ claim that the couple conspired to improperly benefit the company.
“If she is not on trial, however, she will testify that her relationship with Mr. McDonnell was strained for a number of reasons, including Mr. McDonnell’s demanding work and travel schedule, and that, far from acting in concert, they had no such agreement and he had no timely knowledge of many of her interactions with Williams,” the motion says.
In other motions filed just ahead of a midnight Tuesday deadline, the McDonnells asked U.S. District Judge James Spencer to dismiss all but two of the 14 counts — which would leave only two charges of making false statements — and asked for an exceptionally thorough vetting of potential jurors because of what they say has been one-sided and prejudicial media coverage of the case.
“The saturation of news coverage about this case is particularly alarming because the vast majority of it has been misleading and negative,” McDonnell’s attorneys wrote.
They said potential jurors also could be influenced by McDonnell’s political views and by their opinions of political corruption in general. The defense wants the court to require potential jurors to come to the federal courthouse and answer an extensive questionnaire exploring their views on these issues.
McDonnell’s lawyers also want the court to provide jurors with “a neutral summary of the case” rather than the indictment, which they have attacked as flawed in previous court filings.
In the motion to dismiss the corruption counts, defense attorneys argued that McDonnell merely extended routine courtesies and political access to Williams and did not take any official government action to benefit his company. Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers said in a separate dismissal motion that she cannot be convicted of public corruption because she is not a public official.
Prosecutors must respond to the motions by April 24, and a hearing is set for May 19.
McDonnell was indicted 10 days after finishing his four-year term in January. Once a rising star in the Republican Party who was considered as a possible vice presidential pick, the federal investigation and subsequent charges have all but destroyed McDonnell’s political career.
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