The Days of Our Lives defense — will it work? I’m not in the courtroom, and those who ARE in the courtroom seem to have divided opinions about whether the defense seems to be persuasive.
Bob McDonnell testified for the second day about how he and Maureen had drifted apart. The climactic moment was his discussion of a September 5, 2011, e-mail that he sent to Maureen, after what had apparently been a weekend of conflict. It was Labor Day weekend, and he had arranged to clear his calendar of political events (observers of Virginia politics will know that there are Labor Day parades in places like Buena Vista that are virtually command performances for anyone with political ambitions; it was an election year, with all 140 members of the General Assembly on the ballot) so that he and Maureen could spend time together and work on some things in their marriage. Apparently Maureen had no interest in making nice — she was, in Bob’s words, full of anger and hate. And so, at about 12:30 PM on Labor Day, he sent her this e-mail, because he couldn’t bear to talk with her any more:
I love you. Yesterday was one [of] the lowest points in my life… I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent…. You tell me all the time how bad your life has been with me and how unhappy you are. … I do not understand this. I am so spiritually and mentally exhausted from being yelled at…. I will do anything possible to try to fix our marriage if you will work with me.
The defense strategy that the former governor is taking is sickening. It’s the ultimate sleazy, political husband manipulation that is anything but moral.
But the jury is 7 men, 5 women, and the issue is NOT what a Washington Post columnist thinks, but what those 12 jurors think.
I don’t think anyone reading the Sept. 5 e-mail with an open mind can help but feel the pathos of the situation. I don’t watch soap operas or read romance novels, but I think I can identify with Bob and what was going on in his mind when he wrote that e-mail. But is it a defense? Is the jury going to get caught up in the emotion of the deterioration of a 38-year-old marriage?
Or is the jury going to react to the actual details of the guts of his defense — “I didn’t know.” Among the things he testified that he didn’t know:
- That Maureen went to New York with Jonnie Williams to go shopping;
- How much she spent with Jonnie, or even what a dress costs;
- That Jonnie Williams gave him the Rolex;
- How much a round of golf at Kinloch Country Club cost;
- How he wound up keeping the set of golf clubs that Williams gave him;
- That Jonnie had loaned Maureen $50,000 in 2011;
- How Jonnie Williams’ Ferrari got to Williams’ Smith Mountain Lake house, or why he (McDonnell) would be “helping” Williams by driving it back from Smith Mountain Lake;
- That Maureen went to Florida with Jonnie to pitch Anatabloc.
His overall defense was that his home life was so unpleasant that he would stay at the Governor’s office until after Maureen went to bed so that he wouldn’t have to deal with her, so he didn’t know what she was doing with Jonnie Williams. He was aware that he was not able to give her much attention, and he realized that she was getting attention from Jonnie Williams — and that was OK with him. (Here is where he may lose the men on the jury.) He was so much the dedicated public servant that he had become so preoccupied with doing his job as Governor that he was paying no attention to what his wife was doing. He not only didn’t know how much an Oscar de la Renta dress costs — he didn’t know that Maureen flew with Jonnie Williams for the trip, and he didn’t know that he had paid for the clothes (about $20,000 worth).
Bob McDonnell is not done testifying; presumably he will finish up Friday.
In any criminal trial, if the defendant testifies, that becomes the key moment. The jurors will look, more than anything else, at the credibility of the defendant. If they think he is being honest with them, details that may be in conflict fade in significance.
Keep in mind that Bob McDonnell has been selling himself to strangers for 25 years. He is good at it. Petula Dvorak called him “smooth as butter, especially now that he’s embraced his silver hair” (meow). The jury will have to tell us whether the “I didn’t know what was happening around me” is seen as plausible. And I don’t think that the jury will react to the defense strategy in the same way that some female journalists have.