The accuser and the accused met in court today: Prince Alexander von Auersperg, the only son of Martha (Sunny) von Bulow; and Claus von Bulow, Alexander's stepfather, who, it is charged, tried to murder Sunny.
There was no discussion between the two, no aside, or even nod of acknowledgment. Alexander, a 22-year-old student at Brown University, was escorted to and from the courtroom by a police officer and, on the stand, seemed to look at his stepfather with only a fleeting, sidelong glance. Claus, for his part, stared intently at the young man from the moment he entered the room, though he made no sign.
And yet -- in his brief time on the stand -- Alexander made an important statement, a statement which has less to do with the content of the case than with the potential ability of the von Bulow stepchildren to sway a jury.
It came as the defense attorney asked von Auersperg what sort of attorney he and his sister had originally sought -- apparently trying to elicit that the two were seeking a criminal attorney.
Alexander gave an entirely different answer -- an answer having to do with innocence and youth.
"We were looking for a man of integrity, my sister and I," he said, his dark curls and slightly plump cheeks a contrast to his stepfather's imperious, lean profile. "Being young and not having much legal experience, we wanted someone who would take care of us . . . or at least look over us . . ."
An heiress whose estimated wealth has been placed at at least $35 million, Sunny von Bu low has been in a coma since Christmas of 1980. Her husband of 15 years, Claus, has been charged with assault with intent to commit murder; according to the state, knowing his wife was hypoglycemic, he twice injected her with insulin, knowing that could be fatal. The prosecution bolsters that accusation with a little black bag found in Claus' closet -- a bag that contained, among other things, a used hypodermic needle with alleged traces of insulin. The defense responds that Sunny was a self-destructive woman who brought her condition upon herself.
Today, in pre-trial hearings, the defense sought to dismiss the indictment against von Bu low, on the grounds that it was based partly on information gathered by a private, and therefore possibly biased, attorney -- a motion which was denied. The defense also sought to suppress the little black bag as evidence, charging that it had been obtained illegally, without a search warrant. To that end, they subpoenaed former Manhattan district attorney Richard Kuh, the private attorney first hired by Alexander von Auersperg and his sister; and von Auersperg himself, who -- with a private detective -- had removed the little black bag from his stepfather's locked closet.
The hearings, held without a jury present, revealed some cloak-and-dagger tactics. Von Bu low, Richard Kuh cheerfully admitted, had been "tailed" for three days "with a singular lack of success." There had also been an attempt to photograph him and The Other Woman, Alexandra Isles, when they had returned from vacation together, two months after Sunny's coma, but the attempt failed.
Kuh denied that he had given any instructions to von Auersperg or the private detective regarding the seizure of the little black bag. However, there seemed to be, on the part of the savvy private detective, a certain awareness of who should do what when he and Alexander von Auersperg returned to the von Bu low home on Millionaires' Row in Newport to obtain the little black bag. In testimony today, the private detective, Edwin F. Lambert, a bespectacled gentleman with the air of an elementary school teacher, said that while a locksmith had been along on the journey, Alexander had hired him. He also said that while this locksmith selected the key, and even unlocked the closet door, he immediately relocked it, turning the key over to Alexander.
The defense attorney, Herald Fahringer, seized upon that.
"Wasn't that part of the plan, to have Mr. von Auersperg open the door because he was a member of the family?" he pressed. "Why didn't you?"
"I didn't live there," said Lambert, formerly a policeman.
Kuh revealed in his three hours on the stand this morning that there had been some question raised by the family about whether Sunny von Bu low had once been beaten. "Alexander had found a broken crystal walking stick handle at the apartment at Fifth Avenue around December 1st or 2nd, 1981," he said. "Mrs. von Bu low at one time had a nasty wound in her head for which no explanation had been made . . . She was found on the floor of the bedroom where there was no hard table edge, as if possibly she had been hit with a crystal walking cane handle . . ."
Kuh said, however, that nothing definitive could be concluded, thus begging the question of when Claus von Bu low had stopped beating his wife.
"Nothing could be made of that," he said. "It was sheer speculation."
Von Auersperg, called late in the afternoon, proved a stubborn witness. A boyish-looking young man dressed in gray flannel trousers and a tweed jacket, he was composed, at first pressing his fingers tightly into the witness stand as if fighting nerves, later relaxing enough to place a hand in his pocket. Speaking of the time after Christmas when his mother had first gone into a coma, he perhaps inadvertently reminded the lawyers that he was quite young -- he had sought a lawyer, he said, "during the reading period for my exams."
Under direct examination by Fahringer, however, he was resistant.
What had Alexander discussed with his attorney the second time they met, Fahringer asked.
"Whatever we failed to discuss at the first meeting," said von Auersperg.
He returns to the stand in the morning.