Sarah Stimson drives every day from her house on Cape Cod to the courtroom here to "stand close by Claus von Bu low." This morning she brought him a gift from her garden, a somewhat tired talisman rose.
"I wish I could give him more," she said.
Stimson, one of a flock of von Bu low supporters who have been here for the past two months, knows the verdict will soon be announced. "The only thing to do now is wait," she said. And so when von Bu low arrived to hear the judge give final instructions to the jury before deliberations began, Stimson leaned across the burgundy velvet ropes that contain the gallery queue and handed the defendant his rose.
Von Bu low's jaw is as sharp as a Doberman pinscher's, and he let his mandible drop for the effect of astonished gratitude. Then he let a modest grin cross his face. He took the flower in his hand, but gently, twixt thumb and forefinger, and admired it, as if the flower were the Nobel medal and Stimson the bestowing Swede.
"Thank you very much," he said. "Thank you."
The crowd of 25 or so burst into applause. Von Bu low smiled, then bowed slightly at the waist. With the daily performance over, he turned and walked down the hall to Superior Court Judge Corinne P. Grande's courtroom, where the state is trying him on two counts of assault with intent to murder his wife.
Inside the courtroom today, Von Bu low's experience was a bit less pleasant. Both the defense and prosecution attorneys gave their closing arguments to the jury on Thursday, and today Grande gave her final instructions to the jury.
Grande spoke for more than an hour, explaining one last time to the jury of eight women and four men that they must decide beyond a reasonable doubt whether Claus von Bu low twice tried to murder Martha (Sunny) von Bu low by injecting her with insulin on Dec. 27, 1979, and Dec. 21, 1980.
The jury will be sequestered in a local Holiday Inn and will deliberate through the weekend if necessary. When von Bu low was first tried three years ago in Newport, R.I., the jury took a total of 37 hours to find him guilty. The conviction was overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
As soon as the jury left the courtroom today, defense attorney Thomas P. Puccio objected to Grande's instructions, especially her lengthy explanation of "beyond a reasonable doubt."
"I believe the charge of reasonable doubt is totally one-sided in favor of the prosecution," Puccio told the judge. He said Grande had emphasized "buzzwords" that would have a "devastating cumulative effect." Puccio asked Grande to call the jury back and issue revised instructions.
Grande was unmoved and clearly not amused. With the trial being broadcast on national television, she appeared angry at Puccio's critique. She relayed her distress through her pencil, tapping and waving it.
On the subject of reasonable doubt, Grande had said to jury, "The defendant is not required to prove his innocence . . . But it does not mean the state must prove its case beyond all doubt. It's probably impossible to prove anything in life beyond all doubt."
A reasonable doubt, she said, "is not a fanciful doubt, not a feeling in your bones . . . It is based on evidence or the lack of evidence. A reasonable doubt is a doubt rising from reason."
Puccio thought Grande's emphasis would help the jury decide against von Bu low. Grande did not agree, and asked him if he was familiar with a particular precedent on "reasonable doubt."
Puccio, after an embarrassed silence, said no, in fact, he was not familiar with the case. Grande said her instructions on reasonable doubt had been "almost verbatim" from that case. Grande said she would give Puccio time to read the case.
After a subsequent meeting with both the defense and prosecution, Grande brought the attorneys and jurors back into the courtroom, but she did not change her instructions significantly and did not mention the issue of "reasonable doubt" again.
The jury, as they say, is out.
While the state of Rhode Island, in the person of Corinne Grande, is doing its best to provide balance, some of its self-described "law fanatics" are not. The crowd that has waited each morning to pack into the courtroom is almost unanimously behind the defendant.
It is an odd loyalty. Von Bu low arrives each day, imperious as a viscount, and chats with his loyal supporters -- housewives, pensioners, retired fishermen. At the last trial, he was more distant, more comfortable in the role of aristocrat than of populist. The crowd seems to love his new-found noblesse oblige.
"I've got snapshots of Claus, real beauties. I got him getting into his car," said George Hamer, a retired civil service worker. "The guy's a good guy. The case they got against him, it's all circumstantial."
John Dadurian has been coming to the trial from the start on the No. 100 bus from Cranston, R.I. He keeps a huge scrapbook of von Bu low clippings. "It's wonderful," he said. "It's all covered with plastic."
And, of course, Sarah Stimson leads the way. Besides the trial itself, she anticipates most her daily "conversations" with von Bu low: "I talk to him all the time. He's not hard to talk to. And I'm old enough to be his mother. So there's no problem there."
Only a few regulars are virulently anti-Claus von Bu low. Victor Shiffman, a retired shellfisherman, is one of the most vocal. He's been coming to trials here for years. "I love organized-crime stuff especially," he said.
As for von Bu low, Shiffman said, "Look, I've stated it on Australian TV and Danish TV, I've been interviewed a million times -- the guy's guilty as hell. I've already bet 50 bucks on it. I wouldn't shake hands with von Bu low. Believe me, I even told his lawyer that."
The press as well, after so many weeks of covering the trial, seems to have developed a casual relationship with von Bu low. While it is hard to believe that von Bu low -- so obsessed during his 58 years with polish, wealth and panache -- would have much interest in tabloids, he tries his best to convert his inherent bemusement into a hoi polloi bonhomie. According to Vanity Fair reporter Dominick Dunne, an item in the New York Daily News saying von Bu low will appear on the cover of the magazine's August issue wearing a leather jump suit is incorrect.
"It's not a jump suit," said Dunne. "But it is leather."
Often von Bu low will hold off-the-record dinners with reporters where he will crack jokes about his stepchildren, Annie-Laurie Kneissl and Alexander von Auersperg, who have pursued him, or about some local restaurants, which have offended him. With a napkin and ashtray on his head, he has even performed his imitation of Queen Victoria. It is said to be a fine imitation.