Friday, June 30, 2006

Don and Dick's appellate adventure

So, I hear tale that some folks got convicted of something 'round these parts lately. Anyone have details?

For the benefit of out-of-state readers, I refer to former Gov. Don Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy, who had a rather bad day Thursday when a federal jury convicted them on corruption charges, including bribery and conspiracy. The verdict somewhat surprisingly came on the heels of mistrial fears that arose after the jury foreman complained to the judge that some of his colleagues had "no interest in continuing much discussion." The jury cleared two lesser-known defendants -- Siegelman's chief of staff and the former state highway director -- of all charges.

The rhetoric was hot and heavy after the decision. Siegelman was acquitted of more than three-fourths of the charges against him, prompting him to declare a partial victory "in that so many charges that the government alleged were found not true by the jurors." As to the seven other counts, Siegelman had a Cool Hand Luke-style reaction: "[T]hose things that we were found guilty of, I believe, is just a failure to communicate to the jury." Scrushy, meanwhile, was convicted of every charge against him. His attorney harkened back not to 1960s Hollywood but to 1860s warfare, calling the verdict "the worst miscarriage of justice since General Sherman burned Atlanta."

Appeals will abound for Scrushy and Siegelman; their proffered grounds include a claim that the prosecution simply didn't introduce enough evidence to prove its case and an allegation that the jury was selected in a racially discriminatory way. But if their convictions stand, they could spend many years in prison as a result of what the Cumberland School of Law dean called "a compromise verdict" in a complex case that's far from finished.


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