Opening Statements Mark Round One

Posted September 24, 2008 at 6:36pm

The first three witnesses — out of 200, potentially — in the federal trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) are set to take the stand today, after opening statements from federal prosecutors and defense attorneys.

[IMGCAP(1)]According to federal prosecutors, the witness list includes John Hess, Derek Awad and Doug Alke, all former employees of the now-defunct VECO oil services firm.

Stevens is charged with seven counts of filing false financial statements over an eight-year period to conceal the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts from VECO and its executives. He has pleaded not guilty.

On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Emmet Sullivan, federal prosecutors and Stevens’ defense attorneys narrowed the pool of 66 prospective jurors to a 12-member panel, plus four alternates.

The jury — comprising nine black women, three black men, two white women, one white man and one Hispanic man — could become the first federal panel to pass judgment on a sitting Senator in more than 27 years.

Among the selected jurors — the four alternates will not be identified until the conclusion of the proceedings, before the jury beings deliberations — are a third-grade teacher, a student studying sociology and employees of Georgetown University Hospital, the Newseum, Partners in Drug Abuse Rehabilitation and Counseling, the College of American Pathologists, the National Guard and the Department of the Navy.

Eight of the panelists, who are identified only by a court-assigned number and not by name, also reported some previous service on petit or grand juries in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Stevens is being tried, or the D.C. Superior Court.

Opening arguments in the trial are expected to last about an hour for each side.

Sullivan approved a motion Monday allowing Stevens to be absent from the trial in the event of a Senate vote.

But the judge, who previously warned Stevens that his absence could send the wrong message to jurors, approved a prosecution request Wednesday limiting how Stevens’ attorneys may describe their client’s potential absences to jurors during opening statements.

“It’s appropriate if the defendant wants to make reference … but to say he’s doing the business of the people or he’s working on the financial crisis … I’m not going to allow that,” Sullivan said.