Judge rebuffs another bid for mistrial in Stevens case
WASHINGTON - A federal judge yesterday refused another defense request to declare a mistrial in the corruption case against Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, instead deciding he would tell jurors to ignore disputed portions of the government's evidence.
The ruling came after Stevens's lawyers accused prosecutors of improperly withholding information that was favorable to Stevens and using business records they knew were faulty to try to sway the jury. The defense has filed motions four times in three weeks asking US 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 lawyer 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 on his cabin and other gifts from Bill Allen, the former chief of an oil pipeline company, VECO Corp.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii could be among the first witnesses to testify today for the defense.
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, the worker was in Oregon much of that time. It was testimony that the defense learned about only 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.
Stevens's lawyers had sought to show that the Land Rover was worth far less, only to have prosecutors surprise them by producing a check Allen used to pay for the vehicle. The judge found that the check should have been shared earlier.
Earlier yesterday, prosecutors called an FBI agent to introduce e-mails about the home project.
In e-mails from 2000 and 2001, a neighbor gave Stevens progress reports on a project that turned a modest A-frame into a two-story home with a new roof, hardwood floors, wraparound decks, a sauna, and a garage.
"We look forward to seeing the house," Stevens wrote back, referring to his wife, Catherine. "I guess we can't call it a chalet anymore."