Lawyers for Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr. (D-S.C.) and his codefendant, former Richmond businessman John R. Stowe, yesterday formally completed their presentations of defense evidence in connection with conspiracy and bribery charges against the two brought as a result of the FBI's undercover operation Abscam.
Just before the first -- and only -- witness was called into this courtroom for Stowe's case yesterday afternoon, his lawyers privately informed U.S. District Court Judge John Garrett Penn that Stowe would not testify at the trial. The decision came after lengthy bench conferences most of the day concerning Stowe's eighth request that he be given a separate trial from Jenrette. Penn has denied all the requests.
Throughout the five-week-old trial here, Jenrette's lawyer Kenneth Michael Robinson has supported Stowe's request for a separate trial. Yesterday however, in an unexpected move, Robinson initiated a severance motion on his own -- this time in Jenrette's behalf.
Robinson told the judge that he had learned that Stowe planned to testify and that it would be unfair to Jenrette. Penn then called all lawyers in the case to the bench, where the discussions continued at length and in private. The jury, which has been sequestered for the duration of the trial, was outside the courtroom at the time.
There have been clear indications throughout the trial that Stowe's version of some of the key incidents that led to the charges would conflict with Jenrette's. Some of those differences were highlighted when Jenrette was cross-examined during 11 hours of testimony which he completed Tuesday.
One example of apparent conflict concerns the distribution of $50,000 in cash, which Stowe accepted from an FBI undercover agent posing as a representative of a phony Arab sheik. According to the government's case, that money was a bribe in exchange for Jenrette's promise to introduce a private immigration bill for the fictitious sheik.
Stowe, on secret FBI tapes, indicated that he got $10,000 and gave $40,000 to Jenrette. Jenrette, however, has testified that he agreed to "hold" $10,000 for Stowe and never saw the rest of the money. According to evidence in the case, a promissory note for the $10,000 was drawn up by Jenrette and witnessed by his office manager the night Stowe gave him the money.
Also on FBI tapes, Stowe indicates that he Jenrette discussed the $50,000 bribe in a restaurant on Capitol Hill hours before they drove to northwest Washington to discuss the deal with FBI undercover men. Jenrette, in his testimony, has repeatedly denied that there were any such discussions with Stowe before the two men went to that meeting last December. d
Stowe's lawyer, Murray Janus, has repeatedly tried to convince Penn that Stowe should get a separate trial because he is being forced to defend himself against both the government and Jenrette. Yesterday, Janus told reporters that even though Stowe will not testify, his statements on the FBI's audio and videotapes support of his defense that he was the victim of FBI entrapment and that he was lured into the scheme when he had no predisposition to commit a crime.
The single witness to appear for Stowe yesterday was a Florida woman, Nola Skyler. She testified that she arranged the contacts more than two years ago that -- unknown to her -- eventually led her friend Stowe to Mel Weinberg, a convicted con man and informant who was key figure in Abscam. Skyler, who thought she was helping Stowe get Arab financing for a resort real estate deal, had no idea her efforts would wind up bringing Stowe -- and later his long time friend Jenrette -- into the Abscam sting, according to evidence in the case.
Closing arguments in the case, which are expected to take at least eight hours, are planned for Friday.