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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014

Defense rests in corruption trial of ex-governor

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Attorneys for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife wrapped up their case Wednesday in the couple's corruption trial, their defense featuring McDonnell's testimony and the idea that the marriage was so chilly they could not have conspired together.

The defense presented a melancholic letter Bob McDonnell wrote to his wife professing his love for her, apologizing for his shortcomings, calling her out for hers, and begging her to work with him to save the marriage. While Maureen McDonnell didn't testify, defense witnesses talked about her infatuation and "mild obsession" with former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.

Bob and Maureen McDonnell went on trial in July on charges of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams, the former head of the dietary supplements maker, in exchange for helping promote his company's products.

The ex-governor, once a rising star in the Republican Party who was widely considered a possible Mitt Romney running mate in 2012, spent a grueling four-plus days on the witness stand testifying in his own defense. McDonnell acknowledged using poor judgment and said he now regrets accepting the gifts from Williams, who was seeking state-backed research for his company's tobacco-derived dietary supplement, Anatabloc.

Asked by defense attorney Henry Asbill if he risked his future and his family's by committing the crimes alleged in a 14-count indictment, McDonnell firmly responded: "No."

In the love letter, McDonnell wrote to his wife on Labor Day 2011, saying he was lonely sometimes. "I want to be in love, not just watch movies about it."

The letter continued: "I am so spiritually and mentally exhausted from being yelled at. I don't think you realize how you are affecting me and sometimes others with your tongue."

There were other revelations: He got in the habit of working late to avoid going home and dealing with his wife's rage. He moved out of the family home and into the rectory of a Catholic church for the duration of the trial for much the same reason.

Maureen McDonnell did not testify. On Wednesday, the couple's eldest daughter said her parents' marriage had been troubled for many years and her mom developed "a mild obsession" with Williams.

Jeanine McDonnell said her parents rarely spoke to each other in private, going back decades. She also said her mother developed an unusually close friendship with Williams.

The McDonnells have said that they viewed Williams as a personal friend, and they were comfortable accepting his gifts because he never sought any favors from them.

Jeanine McDonnell made clear she no longer thinks highly of Williams, who earlier testified under immunity. She drew a mild admonishment from the judge when she said she returned a $10,000 check from Williams, intended as a housewarming present, "once we learned that Jonnie himself was a criminal."

She said as far back as 20 years ago, her father was rarely home and her mother was left largely alone to raise the couple's five kids. Jeanine McDonnell said she believed, even as a child, that her mother was depressed and that she took long baths and threw herself into soap operas to counter her loneliness.

When the McDonnells were able to create family time, she said, Bob McDonnell devoted himself to his children, and his wife received lowest priority.

It got worse as McDonnell's career took off from state delegate, to attorney general, to governor. Still, Jeanine McDonnell said, her parents were adept at putting up a good front in public.

"Any time they went in a public setting, it was like a switch flipped and they turned it on," she said.

Jonnie Williams was generous and gregarious, and Maureen McDonnell, who for decades had a part-time business selling vitamins and supplements, was particularly interested in the potential of Anatabloc.

"She wanted to be part of something big, and she believed it could be something big," she said.

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