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Closing Arguments in Stevens Trial Set for Monday

The criminal trial of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will go to closing arguments on Monday, Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled on Sunday. Prosecutors will complete their cross-examination of Stevens on Monday morning, but they have indicated that they will not call any rebuttal witnesses. The defense is likely to file a motion asking the judge to unilaterally acquit the Senator; once that is dispensed with, the two sides can begin closing arguments. The jury should then be able to get the case and begin deliberations starting on Tuesday. Stevens is facing a seven-count indictment alleging that he failed to report on his annual financial disclosure forms tens of thousands of dollars in gifts he received, particularly in the form of home renovations provided by employees of the oil services company VECO and its CEO, Bill Allen. On Saturday, Sullivan held a nearly three-hour hearing on proposed instructions to the jury, as the defense and prosecution angled for every possible semantic advantage. The two sides have agreed to large portions of the instructions but continued to debate how the jury should be told to assess the value of things that Stevens is alleged to have received. Stevens’ lawyers want the judge to emphasize the “fair market value” of the renovations, but the prosecution wants to simply focus on the requirement in financial disclosure forms that a gift must be declared if it is worth more than $305. The defense attempted to insert language indicating that if Stevens made a “good faith” attempt to file accurate forms, he could not be guilty, language that the government opposed and that Sullivan indicated he was unlikely to include in the final instructions. On Sunday the government formally requested a jury instruction indicating that Stevens could be found guilty under a standard of “willful blindness” if the jurors conclude that he “deliberately closed his eyes to what otherwise would and should have been obvious to him.” Stevens’ attorney Craig Singer told the judge on Saturday that the defense “could not more vehemently object” to such an instruction. Sullivan gave no indication of how he would rule on that issue. The judge did indicate that he was not inclined to provide instructions to the jury that they should consider whether the testimony of one of the key VECO employees who worked on Stevens’ house should be discounted because of allegations that he abused alcohol. He also agreed to remove from the case all evidence related to a punching bag installed in the Stevens home and guns and other gifts provided to the Senator by a nonprofit organization, because those gifts were not part of the original indictment. However, Sullivan on Sunday rejected a defense request to remove evidence of other gifts — a costly fish sculpture, a massage chair and a stained glass window — from the case.

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