(CBS/ AP) A federal judge has rejected a defense demand to declare a mistrial after a prosecutor miscue in the corruption case against Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
After hearing heated arguments from lawyers Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan turned down motions from Stevens' lawyers to dismiss charges against the senator or to declare a mistrial.
The judge had sent the jury home for the day after the defense accused prosecutors of suppressing evidence that could help the veteran lawmaker prove he was innocent.
Stevens is charged with lying about more than $250,000 in home improvements and other gifts from a wealthy Alaska businessman.
The defense, in hastily prepared court papers, had accused the government of seeking to sabotage its case by withholding a key piece of evidence - FBI reports favorable to Stevens - until nearly midnight on Wednesday. The FBI investigation already has sent several other Alaska state lawmakers to prison, but the dispute threatened the crown jewel of the case.
"Enough is enough," the defense lawyers wrote. "The court should dismiss the indictment. In the alternative, the court should immediately declare a mistrial. ... It is impossible at this point to have a fair trial."
In an earlier series of heated exchanges in court, Sullivan lashed out at prosecutors, then sent jurors home so he could decide whether the trial, now in its second week, should go forward.
"This is not about prosecution by any means necessary," Sullivan said. "It's not about hiding the ball. ... I find it unbelievable that this was just an error."
The government later filed a brief saying evidence that Stevens could have used to prove his state of mind "was absolutely, unquestionably and unequivocally disclosed to the defense prior to trial."
Stevens, 84, is accused of lying on Senate forms about receiving more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from an oil pipeline firm, VECO Corp. The senator acknowledges that he had his old friend, VECO chief Bill Allen, oversee the project, but says he made it clear he wanted to pay for everything and never knew Allen was footing the bill.
Thursday's court confrontation marked the second major blowup over a prosecution misstep. Earlier in the week, the judge rebuked prosecutors for sending another witness - the foreman of the renovation project - back to Alaska without notifying Stevens' lawyers.
The jury had been expected on Thursday to hear secretly recorded audiotapes of phone conversations between Allen, the prosecution's star witness, and Stevens, the longest-serving Senate Republican.
Prosecutors say the tapes back up testimony earlier this week by Allen that he never billed Stevens for work by VECO employees that helped turn a tiny ski cabin into a two-story home with a garage, sauna, wine cellar and wraparound decks. Allen told the jury he didn't feel right about billing his fishing and drinking buddy.
Defense attorney Brendan Sullivan argued Thursday that prosecutors violated evidence rules by not turning over the heavily censored FBI reports well before Allen took the witness stand. The reports, he said, showed that Allen believed Stevens was willing to pay for the renovations - a point he would have made in his opening statement if he had known.
"The integrity of this proceeding has been breached," Sullivan said.
One of the documents, dated February 2007, stated "The source did not invoice STEVENS for the work ... however, the source believes that STEVENS would have paid an invoice if he had received one." Lawyers say the source was Allen.
The defense papers also cited what they claimed was a misleading summary of Allen's statements provided by prosecutors in September. It said, "Allen stated that he believed that defendant would not have paid the actual costs incurred by VECO, even if Allen had sent defendant an invoice, because defendant would not have wanted to pay that high of a bill."
The government countered in its papers that long before trial, the defense was given another report it could have used to make its argument. It read: "ALLEN recalled that TED STEVENS wanted to pay for everything he got."
Stevens, a patriarch of Alaska politics for generations, has languished in the courtroom as a Democratic opponent back home mounts a strong challenge to the seat the senator has held for 40 years. On Wednesday night, he ventured to Capitol Hill to vote in favor of the rescue plan for the nation's financial system.
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