ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Veteran Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was convicted of seven corruption charges Monday in a trial that threatened to end the 40-year career of Alaska's political patriarch in disgrace.
The verdict, coming barely a week before Election Day, increased Stevens' difficulty in winning what already was a difficult race against Democratic challenger Mark Begich. Democrats hope to seize the once reliably Republican seat as part of their bid for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Stevens says he's not dropping out of his Senate race despite being convicted. He accused the Justice Department of unconscionable behavior in his prosecution and asked Alaskans and Senate colleagues to stand by him as he appeals the conviction. In a statement released by his Senate office, Stevens asserted his innocence and said he would appeal.
Stevens, 84, was convicted of all the felony charges he faced of lying about free home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor. Jurors began deliberating last week.
Visibly shaken after the verdicts were read - the jury foreman declaring "guilty" seven times - Stevens tried to intertwine his fingers but quickly put his hands down to his side after noticing they were trembling. As he left the courtroom, Stevens got a quick kiss on the cheek from his wife, Catherine, who testified on his behalf during the trial. He declined to talk to reporters waiting outside.
Stevens faces up to five years in prison on each count when he is sentenced, but under federal guidelines he is likely to receive much less prison time, if any. The judge originally scheduled sentencing for Jan. 26 but then changed his mind and did not immediately set a date.
"If he does get a prison sentence, it almost certainly won’t be a very long one and it wouldn’t surprise me, given his age and record in Congress, if he were given less than what Martha Stewart got when she lied to authorities," says CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "She got six months in prison and six months house arrest. I would be shocked if Stevens gets close to that."
The monthlong trial revealed that employees for VECO Corp., an oil services company, transformed Stevens' modest mountain cabin into a modern, two-story home with wraparound porches, a sauna and a wine cellar.
The Senate's longest-serving Republican, Stevens said he had no idea he was getting freebies. He said he paid $160,000 for the project and believed that covered everything.
He had asked for an unusually speedy trial, hoping he'd be exonerated in time to return to Alaska and win re-election.