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Lawyers in McDonnell case present closing arguments today

Lawyers in McDonnell case present closing arguments today

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Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell arrives at Federal Court in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.

After weeks of sometimes deeply personal testimony, tedious and tawdry exhibits and scores of witnesses, jurors in the corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, today will hear closing arguments.

On the eve of a long holiday weekend, it’s not clear whether Judge James R. Spencer will ask the jury to begin deliberations immediately or wait until Tuesday. But the close of testimony in the case elicited the most expansive commentary yet from its marquee defendant.

“I’m 60 years old. I’ve done ... a lot of living,” McDonnell told a swarm of reporters as he left court arm-in-arm with his children.

“I’ve had an incredibly blessed life in the things I’ve gotten to do, and I’ve got confidence, as I said five weeks ago, in the judicial system and amazing faith in my God and my family, and the ability of a jury to find the truth.”

A reporter asked McDonnell whether he is relaxed about the upcoming verdict now that testimony has concluded.

“‘Relaxed’ might be too strong a word,” he said.

On Thursday morning, the federal government concluded its case with a final rebuttal witness, an FBI agent who testified about how much time Bob and Maureen McDonnell spent together.

The McDonnells are charged in a 14-count indictment. Prosecutors claim the McDonnells helped boost the dietary supplement Anatabloc in exchange for more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the then-CEO of Star Scientific, which sold Anatabloc.

The McDonnells’ time together

Prosecutors are trying to counter the defense notion that the McDonnells’ marriage was so fractured that they could not have conspired to aid Williams.

FBI agent Kathryn Weber testified Thursday that of the 721 nights from Nov. 11, 2011, to March 31, 2013 — the span of the alleged conspiracy — Bob and Maureen McDonnell spent 90 percent of the nights together.

Weber said she compiled the information using the former governor’s and first lady’s schedules and Verizon telephone records that show the locations where cellphone calls originate. She said they also were together 70 percent of the nights outside the Executive Mansion.

Of the 220 nights Bob McDonnell spent outside the mansion, 158 were work- or politics-related and 62 were considered vacation or personal time. Of the 62 trips, the two McDonnells were together all 62 times, Weber said.

She also said that three out of four outings at Williams’ expense at the Kinloch Golf Club in Goochland County were listed as family time and not golf.

Defense attorney John Brownlee began his cross-examination by pointing out that the charts Weber showed were not to scale. He also noted that the schedules Weber used to compile the charts did not give an exact location for the then-first lady.

Maureen McDonnell’s departures from the mansion were not documented on mansion logs.

Brownlee pointed out several nights when Weber’s chart indicated that the first couple spent the night together in the mansion but the governor got home late in the evening, sometimes close to midnight.

Brownlee said that for example, Bob McDonnell on Nov. 7, 2011, was in Southwest Virginia, returning home at 11:30 p.m., according to his schedule. On Dec. 7, 2011, Bob McDonnell was in McLean and arrived at the mansion at 11:50 p.m.

Weber said the chart shows the number of times the first couple was physically in the mansion overnight, based on the information she reviewed.

Bob McDonnell reflects

McDonnell left the federal courthouse in Richmond with son Bobby and Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky, his oldest daughter.

He was asked whether he wished he had done anything differently.

“In 60 years of life, there’s a lot of things I wish I would have done differently,” McDonnell said. “But I am what I am — I’m a human being, like every one of you. We all make — we all do things that we wish we’d do a little differently. It’s just the way life is.”

At the end of his testimony earlier in the trial, McDonnell acknowledged that he made an error in judgment in accepting the gifts from Williams, saying he let his life get “out of balance.”

McDonnell continued: “All human beings are fallible — it’s what the good book says. I’m one of them.”

The statement prompted one reporter to ask whether McDonnell forgives Williams — the prosecution’s star witness against him.

“Sure,” the former governor said.

Since finishing his testimony, McDonnell has appeared much more relaxed in court, smiling and greeting well-wishers between breaks in the proceedings.

There still has been almost no contact with his wife, Maureen — behavior consistent with a major defense argument from the couple that their marriage was so strained that they could not have conspired — as the government has alleged — to help Williams and his company.

As he left the courthouse, McDonnell was without his lawyers and appeared the family man, saying he was happy that his sons had returned from their graduate studies to join him.

He said that during the break between the end of testimony and the lawyers’ arguments over jury instructions Thursday afternoon, he intended to have lunch with his children and celebrate the 30th birthday of daughter Cailin.

Jury instructions

Jury instructions are critical because they’re the legal roadmap that jurors must follow to evaluate the evidence.

On Thursday afternoon, without the jury or either of the McDonnells present, prosecutors and defense lawyers made their cases for changes to the instructions that Spencer will read to the jury to guide them in their deliberations on the 14 counts in the indictment.

Prosecutors had fewer objections and recommendations for changes, additions or deletions than defense lawyers to the set of instructions that Spencer had produced.

Among areas of government concern were instructions that clarified that a defendant — in this case, Maureen McDonnell — need not be a public official to be convicted as part of a conspiracy to deprive the public of the “honest services” of a public office.

Prosecutors also wanted the instructions to reflect their position that demonstrating a “course of conduct” on the part of the couple is sufficient to establish elements of a bribery charge, rather than directly matching up each gift the couple received with a specific action taken by the McDonnells.

Arguing for the defense, attorney Noel Francisco raised objections to multiple components of the jury instructions, arguing that some were “incomplete and legally erroneous.”

“The government, in our view, got a lot of what it was asking for here,” he said.

Many of the instructions, Francisco told the court, appeared to emphasize “what the government doesn’t have to prove” in order for a jury to reach a guilty verdict. “You should say what the government does have to prove,” Francisco said.

Francisco also said some of the instructions would allow the jury to convict the former governor for activities that don’t rise to the level of an “official act” under the federal corruption statute, and misdefine what it means to engage in quid pro quo.

McDonnell has argued that Williams received no special treatment in exchange for his gifts and loans, and his defense presented evidence showing the former governor presiding at corporate events for dozens of companies.

Defense attorneys also asked the judge to insert a sentence into the instructions that would essentially give the jury the latitude to acquit the couple if it determines that they were acting in “good faith” in their use of the governor’s office.

Finally, Francisco asked that the verdict sheet provided to the jury list “Not Guilty” as the first option for the panel, as opposed to “Guilty.”

Spencer took the recommendations under advisement. He is expected to read his final instructions to the jurors today after closing arguments.

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