Symington Gets Slammer

Cheers and jeers greet news of ex-governor's prison stint

There is little time to linger in the afterglow.
Cardona is heading back to Los Angeles in an hour. Schindler is to appear on an evening public television news program. Hancock is to provide the taxi service. Loveman is ready for dinner.

Will Schindler and Cardona be back in Arizona for more white-collar prosecutions stemming from Symington's conviction? Several high-profile business associates of Symington received notice more than a year ago they are under criminal investigation.

"I can't comment on that," Schindler says, a response that can be liberally interpreted to mean more indictments could be around the corner.

While Symington's bravado on the courthouse steps may provide emotional support for him and his family, the former governor is stuck on an increasingly slippery slope toward prison.

Strand ordered Symington to voluntarily report to a federal prison camp at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas on March 20 to begin serving his sentence. But don't expect Symington to trade his expensive suit for prison garb next month.

His attorneys already have asked Strand to allow Symington to post a bond to remain free pending the outcome of a planned appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a new trial. If Strand doesn't agree to a bond, Symington can ask the appeals court for a bond hearing.

The appeals court--which long has been a favorite whipping boy of Symington for its "liberal" treatment of convicted felons--is likely to look favorably on Symington's bond request.

Symington, Dowd says, meets the criteria for staying free on bond because he's not a threat to anyone's safety, he's not likely to flee and his appeal has merit.

If Symington manages to post bond, he buys another year or so of freedom before the appeals court will rule whether to uphold the district court verdict or order a new trial.

Symington's appeal will be based primarily on the argument that Strand improperly removed juror Mary Jane Cotey from the jury after six days of deliberations. Cotey was dismissed after her fellow jurors sent a note to Strand complaining that she had made up her mind before reviewing all the evidence and fully discussing the merits of the case.

Symington and his attorneys are claiming jurors wanted Cotey off the panel because she decided Symington was innocent.

"She came to a conclusion she had a reasonable doubt," Dowd says.
While Cotey's removal appears to give Symington a powerful argument that he deserves a new trial, prosecutors say the appeals court gives judges great leeway in conducting a trial. It is unlikely the court would second-guess Strand's decision to remove Cotey unless it concludes he seriously abused his judicial discretion.

The appeals court will only review the official court record of the case, including Strand's interviews with Cotey and the other jurors. Transcripts of the interviews show there was no definitive discussion of where the jury stood on the merits of the case.

"If Cotey had said she was the holdout on an 11-1 vote, we would have had a far more difficult time" in supporting her removal, Schindler says.

As jeers increase from a group of Native Americans angry at Symington's political legacy, the former governor thanks the crowd for listening to his comments, turns away from the podium and heads directly toward this reporter standing six feet away.

For more than seven years, New Times has sought interviews with Symington to discuss the mounting evidence in the public record that indicated serious trouble lay ahead.

Symington refused scores of requests for comments and ordered his staff and agency heads to also reject any interview requests.

Symington's ironclad rule was to ignore New Times.
But on the day of his sentencing, Symington changed his mind.
Symington wanted to address last week's story ("Writing a Sentence," January 29) that interpreted a conversation he had with jurors and a subsequent comment to Dowd differently from what Symington says he intended.

Moments after shaking hands with three jurors outside the courthouse following a January 20 hearing, Symington told Dowd, "That's a hell of a position to be put in, isn't it?"

New Times interpreted Symington's comment to be referring to himself, and was just another example of his insincerity. A call to Dowd prior to publication was not returned.

"I didn't mean that I was in a hell of a position. I was referring to the jurors," Symington said while extending his hand.

His determined voice and steady stare made it clear he was sincere, perhaps for the first time of the day.

Contact John Dougherty at his online address: jdougherty@newtimes.com

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