RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — For more than a month, Maureen McDonnell quietly listened as witnesses portrayed her as a hostile and rapacious governor's wife whose greed led to her husband's downfall as well as her own.
Enduring such highly public humiliation is punishment enough without adding prison time, her lawyers have argued in court papers prior to a hearing Friday in which McDonnell is to be sentenced.
They have asked the same judge who last month sentenced former Gov. Bob McDonnell to two years in prison to let his wife off with probation and 4,000 hours of community service.
"Mrs. McDonnell has lived the worst nightmare of a public official's spouse: vilified in the media and blamed not only for ruining her husband's political career, but for sending him to prison," defense attorneys wrote in their sentencing recommendation to U.S. District Judge James Spencer.
In the 25-page brief, they describe how Maureen McDonnell dedicated her life to her five children and supporting her husband's political aspirations before cracking under pressure and her fear of failure.
Prosecutors draw a less sympathetic portrait, noting "the degree to which the defendant unhesitatingly participated in the scheme to sell the Governor's office to satisfy her desire for a luxurious lifestyle."
They concede Maureen McDonnell deserves less prison time than her husband because she was not an elected official and was convicted of just eight counts, three fewer than the former governor.
"But because Mrs. McDonnell was a full participant in a bribery scheme that sold the Governor's office in exchange for luxury goods and sweetheart loans, many of which she solicited personally, and because she repeatedly attempted to thwart the investigation through false representations, it would be unjust for her not to serve a period of incarceration for her crimes," prosecutors wrote.
They recommended a sentence of 18 months.
A jury in September convicted the McDonnells of doing favors for former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and low-interest loans. The gifts included about $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories Williams purchased for Maureen McDonnell during a Manhattan shopping spree and an engraved $6,500 Rolex watch she gave to Bob McDonnell as a Christmas present. Williams also paid for vacations and golf outings.
During the six-week trial, defense attorneys tried to show that the McDonnells' marriage was so strained that they were barely communicating and could not have conspired to solicit bribes. Bob McDonnell testified in his own defense, saying he began staying at the office later than necessary to avoid his wife's angry outbursts. Other witnesses described Maureen McDonnell's vitriol toward Executive Mansion staff members. Her former top aide acknowledged calling her a "nutbag."
The former first lady, who sat mostly expressionless during that courtroom pummeling, will have a chance to respond when Spencer asks her if she wants to say anything before he hands down his sentence.
Spencer surprised most legal experts by giving Bob McDonnell a sentence well below the 10 years sought by prosecutors. Chuck James, a Richmond white-collar defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who watched much of the trial, said a lighter sentence for Maureen McDonnell is likely because she was not an elected official and, unlike her husband, is not a lawyer well versed in bribery law.
Defense attorneys' plea for no prison time is "an appropriately aggressive piece of advocacy," James said, but he doubts Spencer will be persuaded.
"I would have to imagine some active sentence of incarceration will be imposed," James said.
Maureen McDonnell's attorneys say in their sentencing memo that if the judge determines prison time is necessary, nine months evenly divided between prison and home confinement would be sufficient.
Bob McDonnell, who was widely considered a potential Mitt Romney running mate before the scandal broke, is free on bond while he appeals his convictions to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Maureen McDonnell also can appeal after she is sentenced.
Williams testified under immunity as the government's star witness. He disputed Bob McDonnell's testimony that they had been friends, saying he plied the former first couple with money and gifts only to get their help promoting his company's nutritional supplements.