Decision looms on Jefferson's taking stand

July 21, 2009 at 1:16 PM
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ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 21 (UPI) -- A looming decision on whether former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., should take the witness stand at his corruption trial is a tough one, experts say.

Attorneys for Jefferson, a former longtime New Orleans congressman, must soon decide if he will testify in his own defense at his Alexandria, Va., trial, where he is facing 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and other charges, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Jefferson used his office to elicit payments from U.S. companies seeking his help to do business in West Africa.

"It's just a terrible decision to make because the case then turns on it," James Neal, a prominent Nashville defense attorney, told the newspaper. "You can forget about everything else that came before in the case. The case now depends on how well the defendant does."

"Putting a defendant on the stand is always risky business, but in some cases it's absolutely essential," added J. Michael Small, a Louisiana lawyer who won acquittal for former state governor Edwin Edwards. "The apparent strength of the government's case against Mr. Jefferson seems to me to weigh heavily in favor of putting him on the stand."

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