Defense rests in McDonnell corruption trial


Associated Press & 13News Now

Posted on August 27, 2014 at 7:24 AM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 27 at 5:51 PM

Live coverage of the McDonnell trial

RICHMOND -- Defense lawyers finished presenting their case to a jury Wednesday in the corruption trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.
Closing arguments are likely to happen Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the eldest daughter of the former governor testified Wednesday that her parents' marriage had been troubled for many years.  Jeanine McDonnell said her parents rarely spoke to each other in private, going back decades.

Jeanine also said her mother developed an unusually close friendship with Williams, telling the jury she thought her mother was "a little bit obsessed" with the Virginia businessman whose gifts to the family are at the heart of the McDonnells' corruption trial.

The former first couple of Virginia is charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's dietary supplements.

Jeanine McDonnell said her parents rarely spoke to each other in private, going back decades. She also said her mother developed an unusually close friendship with Williams.
Part of the McDonnells' defense is that they could not have engaged in a criminal conspiracy because they barely talked to each other.
The former first lady's relationship with Williams is also an important because prosecutors have said Williams was not so much a personal friend but a businessman who showered the McDonnells with cash and gifts because he wanted their help in establishing legitimacy for his tobacco-based supplement, Anatabloc.
The McDonnells have said that they viewed Williams as a personal friend, and they were comfortable accepting his gifts because he never sought any favors from them.
Jeanine McDonnell made clear in her testimony that she no longer thinks highly of Williams. She drew a mild admonishment from the judge when she said she returned a $10,000 check from Williams, intended as a sort of housewarming present, "once we learned that Jonnie himself was a criminal."
She said as far back as 20 years ago, her father was rarely home and her mother was left largely alone to raise the couple's five kids. Jeanine McDonnell said she believed, even as a child, that her mother was depressed and that she took long baths and threw herself into soap operas to counter her loneliness.

When the McDonnells were able to create family time, she said, Bob McDonnell devoted himself to his children, and his wife received lowest priority.
It got worse as McDonnell's career advanced from state delegate, to attorney general, to governor, and then in 2012 when he became a chief surrogate for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Still, Jeanine McDonnell said, her parents were adept at putting up a good front in public.
"Any time they went in a public setting, it was like a switch flipped and they turned it on," she said.
Into that dynamic, Jonnie Williams interjected himself, she said. Maureen McDonnell had never talked about a friend the way she talked about Williams, she said.
"I think she had a mild obsession with Jonnie," she testified.
Jonnie Williams was generous and gregarious, and Maureen McDonnell, who for decades had a part-time business selling vitamins and supplements, was particularly interested in the potential of Anatabloc.
"She wanted to be part of something big, and she believed it could be something big," she said.


Also Wednesday, Maureen McDonnell's lawyers called a friend who took a trip with the first lady in October 2011 to a nutraceutical convention in Utah. They were supposed to fly to Utah on Jonnie Williams’ jet but got diverted by Williams to a posh resort in California.

Once there, the friend testified, Williams took Maureen and her friends to an event for his product —Anatabloc — and asked her to speak at the last minute.

The friend also told jurors that Williams offered to pay for everything and put them up in the very best accommodations.

Prosecutors vigorously cross-examined McDonnell about those issues as he ended more than four days on the witness stand.  He emphatically denied all charges in his public corruption case.

McDonnell acknowledged using poor judgment but responded with a firm "no" Tuesday when his lawyer asked if he risked his political future and his family by doing what he's accused of in a 14-count indictment.

It will be the end of what the former governor says has been a hard time for his marriage.

"I love my wife. We’ve been married - I’ve known her 41 years and it’s been a very, very difficult period," he stated.

Once the three sides give their closing arguments, the jury will receive their instructions. Deliberations could begin as soon as Thursday.

Follow reporter @13NickOchsner, who is inside the courtroom.