In a dramatic, emotional appeal in U.S. District Court yesterday, the defense lawyer for Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr. (D-S.C.) asked a federal jury to look beyond the government's videotapes and tape recordings and see the "seeds of doubt" that show Jenrette is innocent of criminal charges against him.
"He didn't break the law. He didn't do it and there's reasonable doubt all over the place," Jenrette's lawyer, Kenneth Michael Robinson told the jury yesterday near the end of his three-hour closing argument. Jenrette, 44, who is seeking reelection in November to a fourth term in the House, sat with his head bowed, his face flushed, as Robinson told the jury "don't give away this man's innocence. He didn't give it away. . . ."
"It's in his soul that you'll find his innocence or guilt, not on those tapes. Those tapes are only physical impressions of a weakened, alcoholic man man, tempted and tempted and driven and driven, and there he sits," Robinson said, pointing to his client, who, along with a co-defendent, has been on trial for five weeks on conspiracy and bribery charges that grew out of the FBI's undercover probe known as Abscam.
"You're not supposed to lead people into temptation . . . deliver them unto evil, Robinson told the jury, paraphrasing the Lord's Prayer to bolster his argument that Jenrette was a weak and vulnerable target for entrapment by FBI agents.
Government prosecutor John Kotelly, however, told the jury earlier that Jenrette "understood exactly what was going on" when he went to a house in Northwest Washington on Dec. 4, 1979. There he began a series of discussions about bribes and loans -- captured on tape -- with an FBI informant and an FBI undercover agent posing as a representative for a fictitious Arab sheik.
In a methodical, markedly low-key argument to the jury, Kotelly replayed portions of 11 tape recordings made during the undercover investigation. Those tapes, Kotelly argued, "stand on their own" compared to witnesses who may be swayed in their testimony by personal loyalties or political ambitions. "It is the tapes that stand up loud and clear," Kotelly argued.
"He [Jenrette] was willing to sell his office . . . in return for money," Kotelly said in a two-hour closing argument. The government contends that Jenrette and his codefendant, former Richmond businessman John R. Stowe, conspired to accept payoffs from the agents for the fictitious sheiks in exchange for Jenrette's promise to introduce private immigration legislation for them.
An FBI videotape, made on Dec. 6, 1979, and shown to the jury, shows Stowe accepting $50,000 in cash from the FBI undercover agent, Anthony Amoroso, who was posing as Tony DeVito, the chairman of the board of Abdul Enterprises, and FBI front. The government contends that Jenrette split the bribe money with Stowe; Jenrette contends he only signed a note for a $10,000 loan.
Defense lawyer Robinson argued yesterday that Jenrette has been stalked for years by FBI agents, motivated by politics, but prosecutor Kotelly said there was no evidence at the trial of such a vendetta.
Stowe's defense lawyer, Murray Janus, described his client as a desperate, naive man who was seduced by the FBI with offers of huge amounts of money that would help Stowe regain the financial success once enjoyed.
The jury is expected to begin its deliberations today.