Monday, March 17, 2008

Witnesses, Pressure, and the Siegelman Case

We recently noted that the affidavit of Judy White (wife of former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White) raises this troubling question:

Are people who plead guilty actually guilty?

Judy White's affidavit focused on the extraordinary pressure federal agents applied in an effort to get her husband to present false testimony against former Governor Don Siegelman. When White refused to give doctored testimony, he wound up the subject of a federal investigation himself, just as the federal agents had promised.

Gary White, like Don Siegelman, wound up being convicted on a variety of corruption-related charges.

But Judy White's affidavit raises another troubling question: Can we trust the testimony of the witnesses who helped secure the convictions of Gary White and Don Siegelman?

If federal agents tried to pressure Gary White into giving false testimony against Siegelman, one has to think that they applied similar pressure to other potential witnesses. Without a transcript in the Siegelman case, it's hard to know what key evidence led to his conviction. But news reports indicate that testimony of former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey and former lobbyist Lanny Young was critical.

In light of Judy White's affidavit, one must ask this question: What kind of pressure were Bailey and Young under to testify against Siegelman? And did they cave in to that pressure, under the kinds of threat that were directed at Gary White?

And what about Gary White's own case? News reports indicate he was convicted primarily on the testimony of Sohan Singh, a Birmingham engineer with U.S. Infrastructure, Inc., who said he gave White envelopes of cash in exchange for favorable treatment. I see little, if any, references in news reports to physical evidence in the case.

Oral testimony seems to have been the key to conviction, but what kind of pressure was Singh under to testify against White?

If Judy White's affidavit is correct, if federal agencies truly are pressuring witnesses to give false testimony, then our justice system is broken at its very core.

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