"Absolutely, I regret it," Scrushy said when asked in a recent radio interview about not taking the stand. Scrushy told San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins that he was faced with a number of valid reasons for not taking the stand. But after serving six years in federal prison for a "crime" that the public record shows he did not commit, Scrushy said he would do it much differently today.
As for Siegelman, he was released from prison during the appellate process, but with his appeals exhausted, he has resided in a federal prison at Oakdale, Louisiana, since last September 11. Speaking in his first interview about the Siegelman case, Scrushy used the word "sick" several times to describe the process that led to unlawful convictions.
"You have a governor locked up who didn't do anything wrong," Scrushy said. "I spent six years in prison for something I didn't do wrong. This is America, and we have a constitution . . . "
One constitutional principle is that criminal defendants have the right to remain silent--and they often are advised not to take the stand at trial. Criminal defense lawyers tend to follow a maxim that goes something like this: "Do not take the stand to defend a case that has not been proven."
Defense lawyers in the Siegelman/Scrushy case apparently felt certain the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Our review of the public record has shown that prosecutors did not come close to proving a case under the applicable law. But somehow, the jury saw it differently--with the help of flawed instructions from U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller--and found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Scrushy still can't figure out how that happened:
There was no case. My lawyers looked at me and said this is a criminal case--beyond a reasonable doubt--and they've not put on one shred of evidence that you ever cut a check, that you gave [Siegelman] anything, that you ever had a meeting . . . There was no case against us, nothing. It was a joke.
In the closing arguments, when the prosecutors got up, they said . . . you've got to imagine these deals are cut in a back room with cigars and martinis . . . you have to imagine these things . . . I thought it was about facts. We showed that I didn’t cut a check, we didn't have a meeting, there was no bribe, no benefit. . . . We thought the jury got it, but apparently they didn’t.
Particularly exasperating was the testimony of former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey, who prosecutors coached and threatened, according to a number of sworn statements. Bailey stated that he saw Siegelman holding a $250,000 check after exiting a meeting with Scrushy. Evidence showed the check in question was written after the date of the alleged meeting, so Siegelman could not have been holding it. But the jury convicted anyway. Said Scrushy:
This is critical, and I don't understand how the jury missed this. Nick said he saw the check on such a date in June . . . and he knew it was from me because he saw my signature on it. . . . Well, I never gave the governor a check, and I didn't have a meeting with him, and we proved that. . . . The check was written on like July 19, a month and half later, from another company, and I never signed the check.
We brought the CEO from the other company down and put him on the stand, and said, "Is it possible that this check could have been written in June?" And he said . . . no, it's impossible. That whole story was totally made up.
How the jury could find . . . there was no check that I signed, and the date didn’t work, and the guy testified that it came from their company, it didn't come from me. I don't know how the jury connected those dots. They weren't paying attention. They slept through it, I guess.
I thought it was over with. When I heard that testimony, I said, "Well, that's it."
Scrushy and Siegelman wound up suffering because Bailey's testimony was not just a little off--it was deeply, fatally, almost comically flawed. After poking monstrous holes in testimony of the government's star witness, defense lawyers almost certainly saw little to be gained from Scrushy and Siegelman taking the stand. Taking the stand, under such circumstances, can be filled with peril. Says Scrushy:
When you get on the stand, because I had been through the difficulty in the HealthSouth trial, the lawyers thought, "They are going to muddy the water and bring all of that up again, and we really don't need to introduce all of that into this case. We should be able to go into closing and show there is no evidence against you. . . . " I didn’t mind getting on the stand, and I had prepared to go on the stand, and today, I wish I had of.
Republican Bob Riley followed Siegelman into the governor's office, and Scrushy did not mention Riley by name during the Collins interview. But Scrushy clearly is disturbed that Riley and his associates have largely escaped scrutiny for numerous questionable actions before and after the Siegelman prosecution. He also is disturbed by the corrupting influence that national Republican figures, such as Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff, have had on Alabama:
As I look back on it, it’s so much deeper [than people realize]. If anybody brought to the surface all of the activities of the governor that came in [after Siegelman] . . . it’s a very sick story for the state of Alabama and for this country. The way money flowed, the people who pocketed millions, and how they did it . . . and they wouldn’t have done it if Siegelman had been in there. . . . It is so deep; it goes all the way up to Washington, not just Alabama. . . .
I don’t know all of the details . . . I'm trying to piece it together . . . but it looks to me that there was so much opportunity through the Republicans and their relationship with [Abramoff], and Siegelman as governor would have destroyed their plans.
You've got to take a look at the people who were elected [in place of Siegelman] and follow the money to all of those folks. I lie awake at night and think, "How did they get away with it? Why has no one uncovered all of that filth?"
Scrushy has served his time, but he still has a pending appeal before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit, seeking documents that he says will prove judicial, prosecutorial, and juror misconduct in the case:
I’ve got to move on with my life; I've got nine children, and a beautiful wife and a lot of things I want to accomplish in my life. But this is just sitting there, and it needs to be dealt with. A lot of people have mud on them, and they are running around free as birds, and they've done very bad things. I believe we should shine light on this, and these people should come clean. . . .
I think it’s good for people in this country to understand that we have problems with our judicial system, we have problems with our politicians. The average guy walking the street doesn’t realize the corruption [is out there]. I don't think there is anything wrong with pointing it out whenever we have that opportunity.
Previously in the series:
Richard Scrushy: Convictions In The Siegelman Case Are Grounded In A Former Aide's Flawed Testimony (April 8, 2013)
Feds Promised To Release Scrushy From Prosecution If He Provided False Testimony Against Siegelman (April 9, 2013)
Siegelman Case Involved No "Meeting Of The Minds," But Scrushy Still Spent Six Years In Federal Prison (April 18, 2013)