(AP) Virginia’s former governor should be allowed to call as many as 10 character witnesses in a corruption trial that boils down to “a credibility contest” between the onetime rising Republican star and the government’s expected star witness, defense attorneys argued in court papers.
“In this case — more than most cases — character evidence is critical,” Bob McDonnell’s lawyers said Tuesday in a memorandum opposing a motion by prosecutors to limit the former governor and his wife, Maureen, to three character witnesses apiece.
The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting dietary supplements made by his company, Star Scientific Inc. Williams is expected to testify for the prosecution at the couple’s jury trial, which is scheduled to begin July 28.
“Mr. McDonnell cannot adequately defend himself without relying heavily on character witnesses,” defense attorneys wrote. “First, the heart of this case is a credibility contest between Mr. McDonnell on one hand and Mr. Williams, the Government’s chief witness, on the other.”
Prosecutors argued in their motion last month that any more than three character witnesses would be redundant. McDonnell’s attorneys disagreed.
“Each witness will capture different character traits or different aspects of various character traits at different points in his life and career,” they wrote. “The result will be a complete picture of Mr. McDonnell’s character, not the incomplete and distorted version that would necessarily result by arbitrarily restricting the defense to a mere three witnesses.”
In other filings Tuesday, prosecutors opposed McDonnell’s motions to exclude some statements his wife made about payments from Williams and to bar other statements until the government demonstrates in a pretrial hearing that a conspiracy existed.
The government also urged U.S. District Judge James Spencer to reject McDonnell’s bid to exclude his state-required financial disclosure forms from evidence. The defendants have argued that the forms are immaterial, but prosecutors wrote that the omission of gifts from Williams will show “corrupt intent and consciousness of guilt.”
McDonnell, a former Virginia Beach assistant prosecutor, served in the House of Delegates and as state attorney general before being elected governor in 2009. He was widely considered a possible Mitt Romney running mate in 2012, but the gifts scandal has likely ended his political career.
Late last year, McDonnell apologized for what he described as bad judgment and said he repaid about $120,000 in gifts and loans, but he denied breaking any laws. He was indicted in January, 10 days after leaving office.
— LARRY O’DELL, Associated Press