Deliberations begin in former Va. Gov. McDonnell's trial

A judge instructed jurors in former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell's trial that they should give "official acts" a broad definition.
By Frances Burns  |  Sept. 2, 2014 at 3:33 PM
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RICHMOND, Va., Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Jurors began weighing evidence Tuesday against former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, who allegedly helped a businessman in exchange for gifts.

The jury in federal court in Richmond first heard lengthy instructions from U.S. District Judge James Spencer. Jurors must decide whether McDonnell did official favors for Jonnie Williams Sr., the former CEO of Star Scientific, in return for $177,000 in loans and items like designer clothing and trips on private planes, and whether Maureen McDonnell conspired with her husband.

The judge in his instructions concurred with the prosecution view that the jury can give "official acts" a broad definition. He said they can include any actions "that a public official customarily performs," even if they are not part of his duties as defined by law.

Spencer agreed with the defense that Maureen McDonnell was not a public official. That could mean acquittal for both McDonnell and his wife, if jurors decide she acted independently of her husband.

Testifying in his own defense, McDonnell suggested that any arrangements with Williams to promote a Star Scientific product were his wife's work. He depicted his marriage as strained, suggesting that he was often away.

Williams was a major prosecution witness. Defense lawyers said he had a strong motive to help convict McDonnell, since he was under investigation for his own financial dealings.

The jury is dealing with a 14-count indictment that includes 11 public corruption charges as well as charges of falsifying financial documents and, in Maureen's case, obstruction of justice.

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