Prosecutors repeatedly hid evidence in Senator Stevens case

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 15, 2012 10:48 AM
Prosecutors repeatedly hid evidence in Senator Stevens case

By Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the case of the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens repeatedly hid evidence that could have exonerated him from corruption charges, according to an investigative report released on Thursday that found misconduct by Justice Department lawyers.

The prosecutors intentionally withheld and concealed information from Stevens' defense lawyers that included witness statements, key details that could have undermined prosecutors' star witnesses and allowed false testimony to be presented during his 2008 trial, the report said.

Stevens' main defense attorney, Brendan Sullivan, "was not aware when he gave his opening statement, and never learned during or after the trial, that the prosecutors possessed evidence that directly corroborated Senator Stevens' defense," the report said.

Stevens, who died in a plane crash in 2010, was the longest serving Republican senator in history and had been charged in 2008 with seven counts of lying on a Senate disclosure form to conceal $250,000 in gifts from an Alaska oil executive and other friends.

He was convicted days before the 2008 election and lost his bid for re-election, helping Democrats take control of the Senate.

The judge in the case in 2009 overturned the conviction because of evidence that surfaced showing prosecutors failed to turn over evidence, as required under law, that could have helped Stevens' lawyers defend him.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, weeks after taking office in 2009, had the case dismissed.

The judge, Emmet Sullivan, then ordered an independent attorney, Henry Schuelke, to conduct an investigation and that 525-page exhaustive report was released on Thursday.

Schuelke did not recommend that criminal charges be brought against any of the Justice Department prosecutors for the misconduct.

One of the prosecutors in the case, Nicholas Marsh, committed suicide in September 2010 amid the investigation. The report said it was expressing no conclusion about his conduct because of his death.

Holder said last week that an internal Justice Department report will be forthcoming soon and recommends sanctions, though he did not elaborate. Some senators have complained that several of the prosecutors and attorneys involved in the botched case still remain in the Justice Department.

"A miscarriage of justice would have been averted had the government complied with the law," Stevens' lawyers Sullivan and Robert Cary said in a statement. "Instead, the government proceeded by any means necessary to win their case. In the process, the government violated the United States Constitution and the ethical rules of the legal profession."

A spokeswoman said the Justice Department had no immediate comment.

(Reporting By James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Vicki Allen)