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Jury Instruction The Last Point Of Contention In McDonnell Corruption Trial

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, second from left, arrives at federal court with his attorneys Danial Small, left, Henry Asbill second from right, and John Brownlee, right, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Richmond, Va.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, second from left, arrives at federal court with his attorneys Danial Small, left, Henry Asbill second from right, and John Brownlee, right, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in Richmond, Va.

The defense has rested in the ongoing corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. Members of the jury are about the receive instructions on how they should evaluate the charges.

Defense lawyers have finished presenting their case to a jury in the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. They're charged in a 14-count indictment with accepting more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

The former First Lady presented her case to jurors on Wednesday, putting the couple's oldest daughter on the stand. Jeanine McDonnell Zubowski says her parents put on a convincing front, but behind closed doors the two were barely speaking. She also testified that her mother had a "mild obsession" with former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, who showered the family with gifts and loans.

But she says she returned a $10,000 wedding present when she learned Williams was, in her words, a criminal.

"What you saw was a daughter lashing out at somebody who had gotten very close to the family, and after having gotten close to the family has created a lot of heartbreak and anguish," says Michael Levy, white-collar defense attorney.

Levy says the next witness Maureen's lawyers called is also significant: Robert Ross, an investigator with the law firm Holland and Knight. "The fact that Mrs. McDonnell's final witness is an investigator who works for her husband's law firm is all the evidence anybody needs that these two defenses are very tightly coordinated," Levy says.

Bob McDonnell testified in his own defense for more than four days. He acknowledged using bad judgment but firmly denied doing anything illegal. Maureen McDonnell did not testify in her own defense. Now it's up to the jury to determine which side is more credible, which is why the instructions that are crafted today are so important.

"What constitutes government action is at the heart of the debate over the jury instructions," says Rich Kelsey, assistant dean of the George Mason School of Law. "If the law is favorable to one side or the other in the instruction, it may determine the outcome of how the facts are applied to the instructions. Thats why the instructions are a very big fight in this types of cases."

Prosecutors say they have at least one more rebuttal witness to call to the stand Thursday morning, then Judge James Spencer will dismiss the jurors and the lawyers will start arguing over the critical details of how the jurors are instructed to judge the former governor and his wife. Closing arguments are expected tomorrow.

Closing arguments are expected on Friday.

NPR

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