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McDonnell Trial Day 23: Defense Rests in Corruption Trial of Former Governor

Posted: Updated: Sep 10, 2014 10:11 AM
Bob McDonnell arriving at court Bob McDonnell arriving at court
April Niamtu April Niamtu

The defense has rested in the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife.  Former first lady Maureen McDonnell's attorneys finally had their turn to present their side of the story Wednesday.

Bob and Maureen McDonnell are charged in a 14-count indictment 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 product. Emotions hit a high point Wednesday when the couple's eldest daughter had some tough words for Williams.

The first witness called was a personal friend of Maureen McDonnell, April Niamtu. She testified that she met Maureen in 2009. She answered questions relating to their friendship and Maureen's interest in nutraceuticals. She also said Maureen and Williams seemed like "best buddies" and acted as if they'd known each other a long time.

Niamtu testified about flying with Maureen in 2011 to a Nu Skin conference. She said Jonnie Williams flew them out there and took them to another meeting first, asking the first lady to speak in front of what appeared to be a couple hundred people. She said she had expected about a dozen people. During that trip, she said they were unexpectedly surprised by spa treatments, dinners and more.

The next witness called to the stand was the McDonnells' oldest daughter, Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky. She testified about the complicated relationship between her parents, saying her mother was frustrated and grew more lonely as her father's political career grew.

She testified that her parents "put on an act in public" while their problems increased behind closed doors. She says her mother would drink and take long baths while the governor was away. She told the jury that her father, at his wit's end after one fight, told her “I don't know what to do anymore. I wish I could make her happy."

Zubowsky testified her mother had a "mild obsession" with Jonnie Williams, and he was always at the top of the list for wedding discussions. When asked about the $10,000 wedding gift from Williams, Jeanine said it was returned when "we realized he was a criminal."

Maureen McDonnell has shown little emotion this entire trial but Wednesday she cried after Zubowsky left the stand. Bob McDonnell rubbed one eye. But the jury may not have seen Maureen's reaction, having already left the room on break.

Thursday we will finish rebuttal witnesses and there will be motions over jury instructions before the jury hears closing arguments from both sides. Closing arguments are likely to happen Friday.

The trial has lasted four weeks so far.  Bob McDonnell testified in his own defense for more than four days. He acknowledged using bad judgment but firmly denied doing anything illegal. Maureen McDonnell did not testify. They could face decades in prison if convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to the story.

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