Prosecutors, McDonnell defense attorneys try to shape evidence jury will hear at trial

All five of Robert and Maureen McDonnell’s adult children might testify at their parents’ federal corruption trial in July, and prosecutors want to treat them as “adverse” witnesses and ask them leading questions.

Maureen McDonnell, though, won’t likely take the stand, and defense attorneys do not want prosecutors to be able to use as evidence her previous statements to investigators.

As far as character witnesses go, prosecutors want the state’s popular former governor and his wife to be limited to just three apiece.

The McDonnells’ trial is still more than a month away, but on Friday, prosecutors and defense attorneys got an early jump on their bids to direct how the proceedings will play out. Near day’s end, both parties filed request after request, hoping to block or shape evidence the jury will hear.

The McDonnells were charged in January in a 14-count indictment that alleges they lent the prestige of the governor’s office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for loans and gifts. They have pleaded not guilty, and a trial is scheduled to begin July 28.

None of the motions filed Friday seemed capable of shifting the landscape of the case. But each was interesting in its own right. Among the news from the filings:

• Prosecutors do not want defense attorneys to be able to show evidence about whether the couple’s alleged omissions on loan documents actually mattered to the financial institutions issuing the loans. They argue they only have to prove whether Robert and Maureen McDonnell knowingly omitted information to influence the institutions, not whether their actions would have caused any impact.

• Defense attorneys do not want jurors to hear evidence about the Statements of Economic Interests Robert McDonnell (R) had to file as governor, nor do they want jurors to hear evidence about Maureen McDonnell’s buying and selling of the stock of a company Williams once led. Such evidence, they say, does not speak to the specific crimes with which the McDonnells are charged and might unfairly prejudice jurors.

• Defense attorneys want prosecutors to have to prove to a judge, at least to some degree, that the former governor and his wife participated in a conspiracy before they are allowed present evidence having to do with Maureen to jurors.

Each side will likely respond to the other in the coming days, and U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer will eventually decide what evidence is in and out.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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