By Paul Goldman
Editor's note: Paul Goldman is a guest columnist for DecisionVirginia.com. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NBC12.
The wife or Williams? The deliberation decision by Bob and Maureen McDonnell's defense team not to lead an all-out assault on Jonnie Williams’ career as master scam artist, detailed in what they acknowledged was my seminal article back in November of 2013, is an unprecedented gamble in a case like this.
Okay: Perhaps unprecedented is a bit too strong, but it surely defies what experts tell me, and my own research tells me, about the strategy 95 to 99 percent of top criminal defense attorneys would have used in this case. However, it is true only the McDonnells' lawyer have seen all the evidence. So, all experts can be wrong.
But this much is right: the former governor’s lawyers have thrown more punches at his Wife than at Williams.
In a criminal trial, the best defense is always, and I mean always, the best offense you can muster. How do the best criminal defense lawyers do it? Simple really: They put someone else on trial. It is usually the government for trying to railroad an innocent man. It worked in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. A defense attorney’s strategy is based on the logical deduction to the two questions a jury always wants answered:
(1) If your client is innocent, then why he/she is in court facing 50 years in the slammer with the government saying all those nasty things about him or her?
The defense attorney’s answer: The government messed up big time.
(2) Well, if that is true and Uncle Sam messed up, who caused that?
The defense attorney’s answer: this is how he/she earns the million dollar fee in the McDonnell case.
You have to blame somebody else.
The jury is going to hear a lot of evidence about a lot of stuff which isn’t going to seem right to them. So, human nature being what it is, they are going to need someone else to blame, if only to have reasonable doubt.
Accordingly, the defense has to give them a culprit and say: “here is the no good SOB you should want to punish, not my client.”
That’s why the McDonnell defense lawyer’s strategy is the talk of criminal defense circles: they didn't go full bore to make the jury despise Jonnie Williams.
They called him a “master manipulator” in their opening statement. Did they go full bore to show it? No. Perhaps their low-key approach worked.
But I defy anyone to read my article on Williams (all the information is from public sources. I didn’t have access to court records, government files and other reams of stuff) and fail to come away with at least a reasonable doubt about whether anyone should be sent to jail based on Mr. Williams’ testimony. Indeed Mr. Williams confirmed on the witness stand several times that my analysis of his modus operandi fit precisely what he did in the McDonnell case.
Simply put: the man has tens of millions of dollars while investors in his companies have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. On the witness stand, he even bragged about making big money on companies that bankrupted the investors!
It is always 100 percent about Jonnie, 24/7.
His latest scam, claiming to have discovered a health care product as important if not more so than penicillin, is at the heart of Williams’ pursuit of the McDonnell’s.
Accordingly, 95 to 99 percent of the time, the defense strategy would have gone after Jonnie in a big way to destroy his credibility. In the end, the case boils down to his word against the McDonnells'.
Williams is a character right out of the movie The Sting, only he is too smart for Newman and Redford: and his M.O. doesn’t require him to break any laws.
The defense strategy would have been to make the jury despise the “always in control Williams” 95 to 99 percent of the time. Instead, they apparently have chosen to choose to base their defense on making the jury shake their heads at the pathetic “out of control” wife.
The Wife or Williams?
We shall see.