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Judge in 'Da Vinci Code' case says he will rule before April 13

LONDON -- Arguments closed in the ''Da Vinci Code" copyright case with the lawyer for the men suing the publisher of the blockbuster novel suggesting that author Dan Brown's testimony was unreliable and questioning why his wife, who helped research the book, did not testify.

Jonathan Rayner James, whose clients say Brown stole their ideas for his huge bestseller, said yesterday that the novelist's testimony should be treated with ''deep suspicion." He also asked why Brown's wife, Blythe, who did much of the research, was not called as a witness in the copyright-infringement case.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh are suing ''Da Vinci Code" publisher Random House, claiming that Brown's book ''appropriated the architecture" of their 1982 nonfiction book ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail." Both books explore theories -- dismissed by theologians -- that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, the couple had a child, and the bloodline survives.

Judge Peter Smith said he would give his verdict in the case before the current court term ends April 13.

In a written statement handed to the court yesterday, Rayner James said Brown had copied from ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail," but acknowledged he may have done so ''unwittingly because of the research materials supplied by Blythe Brown."

''His evidence should be approached with deep suspicion," the lawyer said of Brown's testimony during three days on the stand last week. ''He had almost no recollection of matters that related to timing. He would struggle to recall a year, was rarely able to recall a month. His general attitude in cross-examination was uncooperative."

Rayner James said evidence from Blythe Brown would have been of ''fundamental importance to this case." He claimed she would have been able to confirm the extent to which ''The Da Vinci Code" relied on Baigent's and Leigh's work.

Dan Brown knew ''little about what she did," Rayner James said.

''It remains the position that only she knows the extent of her involvement in the research and creation" of ''The Da Vinci Code," he said.

Brown has acknowledged that he and Blythe read ''Holy Blood, Holy Grail" while researching ''The Da Vinci Code," but said they used 38 other books and hundreds of documents, and that the British authors' book was not crucial to their work.

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