Wrongfully Accused

Lawyer for Late-Sen. Ted Stevens calls for judicial reforms

Ted Stevens
Ted Stevens / AP

A wrongful prosecution cost late-Senator Ted Stevens the 2008 election, according to a new book from the Alaska politician’s attorney.

Defense attorney Rob Cary’s new book, Not Guilty: The Unlawful Prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, details how prosecutors withheld evidence that would have vindicated the longtime Alaska Republican. Now he is advocating for reforms so that this does not happen again.

"If we had known what they hid from us there was no way any jury would have found him guilty," Cary told the Washington Free Beacon in a phone interview.

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Cary claims that federal lawyers wrongfully prosecuted his client, ultimately causing the Republican candidate to lose his Senate seat by a razor-thin margin in 2008. Stevens should have never had to face trial, according to Cary, who served as his defense counsel. The federal judge that presided over the case agreed.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan condemned the prosecution for withholding evidence about a witness’ inconsistent statements, as well as his alleged solicitation of an underage prostitute.

"In nearly 25 years on the bench, I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case," Sullivan said in a 2009 hearing documented in the book.

The dubious tactics of the prosecution led Sullivan to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the federal attorneys who brought charges against the Republican senator. The independent prosecutor cleared the attorneys of contempt charges. The Department of Justice suspended the prosecutors for "reckless professional misconduct" in 2012, though a judge later overturned the suspensions on a technicality.

The prosecutorial misconduct carried large consequences for the state of Alaska and the U.S. Senate. Jurors, ignorant of the withheld evidence, delivered a guilty verdict against Stevens just eight days before the election. He lost by several thousand votes and conceded the race to Democrat Mark Begich just weeks before the case was dismissed.

Now Cary is calling for reforms. He wants to change the way witnesses are threatened and rewarded so they are not incentivized to provide false testimony. He is also calling for better standards for evidentiary disclosure, more resources to help needy defendants, and discipline for prosecutors who lie or cheat.

"When prosecutors make honest mistakes that lead to unfair trials, cases need to be dismissed without regard to the political ramifications," Cary says in his book.

Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010. Cary said he felt obligated to write the book since Stevens was no longer around to tell his side of the story.

"I tried to beg off. I recommended a best-selling author who wanted to do a book about the trial, but the senator and his family said it had to be done by someone who had lived the case — before, during, and after. Ultimately, Catherine Stevens, the senator's widow, delivered the clincher. She said, ‘Rob, Ted wanted this book to be written — and he wanted you to write it.' So, with Catherine's encouragement … that is what I have done," he writes.