Testimony to begin in Sen. Stevens' trial

It remains unclear whether jurors will hear from senator

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008

WASHINGTON - A newly selected jury that will determine whether Sen. Ted Stevens is guilty of lying on his financial disclosure forms will hear the first witnesses today in his corruption trial.

J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press
J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press

First, prosecutors will outline their case against the 84-year-old Alaska Republican. They're expected to call three witnesses. Stevens' lawyers also will have an opportunity to outline their defense, including shortcomings they hope to highlight in the government case against the senator.

Stevens was charged in late July with taking more than $250,000 in home repairs, labor and furnishings from a defunct oil-services company, VECO Corp., and Bill Allen, its former chief executive, and failing to report the gifts on his annual Senate disclosure forms. The gifts he's accused of accepting include renovations to his home that lifted it from its foundation and added a lower story, doubling the house in size.

Among the first witnesses jurors will hear from today is John Hess, a VECO engineer whose initials are on the renovation plans filed with the city of Anchorage's building department. Stevens called the home, an A-frame in the resort community of Girdwood, Alaska, his "chalet" in correspondence that likely will be entered as evidence against him in the case. VECO, according to the Stevens indictment, paid for the design work.

On Wednesday, after a day and a half of jury selection, lawyers for Stevens and federal prosecutors agreed on a jury pool of 16, which includes four alternates.

The jury is made up of nine black women, three black men, two white women and two white men - a mix that reflects the population of the District of Columbia, which is more than 56 percent African American.

It's a far different jury than Stevens likely would have faced in Alaska, had he been successful in moving the trial to his home state. In Anchorage, U.S. Census figures show the population is about 72 percent white, 6.5 percent black and about 8 percent Alaska Native.

The Washington jury also is reflective of the city's professional class, where 39 percent of the population has at least a four-year college degree. In Anchorage, that number is closer to 29 percent.

There's a third-grade teacher with 21 kids in her classroom, a woman who's the receptionist for a trade association, a young man who works in the gift shop at a museum, a man who oversees the operating rooms at a hospital, a woman who keeps the books for the D.C. National Guard, another woman who compiles criminal justice reports on wiretapping, and a man who works in drug counseling.

Half of the jurors previously served on juries, either in federal court or District of Columbia courts. One man was a grand juror.

Stevens is balancing his trial, his Senate duties and a campaign against Democratic challenger Mark Begich, Anchorage's mayor. The trial, which is expected to last three to four weeks, was put on an expedited schedule at Stevens' request so that there is a potential for it to wrap up before the Nov. 4 election.

Allen, 71, is expected to be the star witness in Stevens' trial, the culmination of four years of inquiry into corruption in Alaska politics. Allen, who's pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers in Alaska, hasn't yet been sentenced. But his courtroom testimony and secret recordings and videos of conversations were key to the Justice Department's seven successful convictions.

Allen and VECO Vice President Rick Smith pleaded guilty in May 2007 to providing more than $400,000 in bribes to public officials in Alaska.

The Justice Department also won convictions of three former state representatives, all on bribery charges: Tom Anderson, Pete Kott and Vic Kohring. One other state representative, Bruce Weyrauch, is awaiting trial, as is current state Sen. John Cowdery.



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