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US Congress: Error in Alaska senator's case lead... http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct/02/...

10/2/2008 17:41

US Congress: Error in Alaska senator's case leads to talk


of mistrial
Judge to determine whether the US justice department's withholding of evidence has
compromised the trial

Elana Schor in Washington


guardian.co.uk, Thursday October 02 2008 22:22 BST

The dramatic criminal trial of Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in Congress, is headed for a new twist
today as an error by government prosecutors raised the prospect of a mistrial.

The presiding judge in the Stevens case has scheduled a hearing this evening to determine whether the US justice
department's withholding of evidence from defence lawyers has compromised the trial.

"It strikes me that this was probably intentional," judge Emmit Sullivan told chastened prosecutors today as he suspended
testimony for the day. "I find it unbelievable that this was just an error."

The evidence in dispute lies at the heart of the government's case against Stevens, who is accused of knowingly concealing
more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations he received from a wealthy oil executive in his home state of Alaska.

Defence lawyers argue that Stevens unintentionally failed to disclose the gifts because he was unaware that the executive,
Bill Allen, was paying for the home renovations.

Prosecutors admitted today that they had not turned over an interview with Allen - the government's star witness – in which
he said Stevens would have paid for the renovations if Allen's company had sent the senator bills for the work.

The US legal system requires prosecutors to share evidence with the defence during a pre-trial period known as discovery.

Lawyers for Stevens, who faces a difficult re-election battle next month, are pressing for an outright dismissal of the charges
against him.

"Enough is enough," defence lawyer Brendan Sullivan, who is not related to the judge, wrote in a court filing today.

"The court should dismiss the indictment. In the alternative, the court should immediately declare a mistrial."

A mistrial in the Stevens case would likely give him a boost in his race against Democratic challenger Mark Begich, the
mayor of the Alaska city of Anchorage. Stevens, who has been a formidable force in Washington for 40 years, was already
limping into his re-election campaign after his embrace of Alaska's so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" made national headlines.

The bridge, which would have cost nearly $400m to serve a town with only 50 residents, became a symbol of congressional
excess before the state officially cancelled it last year.

Its infamy has also plagued Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, who has portrayed
herself as an opponent of the bridge despite her initial support for the project.

A decision from Judge Sullivan on the Stevens trial could arrive tonight or as late as next week, depending on his decision-
making process.

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