WASHINGTON — A federal judge rejected a vigorous defense bid Thursday for a mistrial in the corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens despite finding that prosecutors broke rules requiring them to turn over evidence favorable to the veteran Alaska lawmaker.
After a roller-coaster day of discord, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan told lawyers that ending the trial after several days of testimony would be too drastic. Instead, he ordered the government to give stacks of previously undisclosed documents to the defense and called a recess until Monday.
Sullivan had offered to take the unusual step of allowing defense attorneys to amend their opening statement using the new information. “I think there’s ways to deal with this short of a mistrial or short of a dismissal,” he said.
Defense attorney Robert Carey was insistent that his side wanted a mistrial or nothing.
“The trial is broken and it can’t be fixed,” Carey said. “It’s been played on an uneven playing field.”
Under a grilling by the judge at an afternoon hearing, prosecutor Brenda Morris struggled to explain why some evidence — especially FBI reports about interviews with their star witness, wealthy businessman Bill Allen, about unreported gifts to Stevens — had either been withheld or heavily censored.
“It was bad judgment,” said Morris. “It was a mistake.”
“How do I have confidence that the Public Integrity Section has integrity?” the judge shot back.
“This is not something we take lightly at all,” she said. “This is our word.”
The government’s case appeared in jeopardy earlier Thursday when Stevens’ defense team persuaded the judge to suspend the trial for the day, send the jury home and consider throwing out the charges.
The defense, in hastily prepared court papers, accused the government of seeking to sabotage its case by withholding portions of the disputed FBI reports until nearly midnight on Wednesday. The FBI investigation already has sent several other Alaska state lawmakers to prison, but the dispute threatened the crown jewel of the case.