MARLINGA ACQUITTED: 'Thank God' for the verdict
BY AMBER HUNT and DAVID ASHENFELTER
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS
September 28, 2006
With the first "not guilty," former Macomb County Prosecutor Carl Marlinga bent his head forward and began to cry softly.
By the time the jury forewoman said those words for the fifth time -- acquitting Marlinga of all federal corruption charges that have dogged him for two years -- he sobbed.
"I'm speechless for probably the first time in my life," Marlinga, still tearful, said after spectators left the courtroom.
But he wasn't.
"I want to thank God, my wife and two of the greatest lawyers and friends I could ever have in my life," Marlinga said, referring to defense lawyers Mark Kriger and N.C. Deday LaRene. "They just didn't stop working on the case."
Marlinga, 59, had faced up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for allegedly swapping prosecutorial favors in two rape cases for contributions to his failed 2002 congressional campaign. The five charges included two counts of bribery, deprivation of honest services, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission and exceeding campaign contribution limits.
The charges derailed Marlinga's political career, causing the popular Macomb County Democrat to step aside shortly after the indictment was issued in April 2004, after 20 years as the county's chief prosecutor.
As they filed out of the courthouse, jurors said federal prosecutors weren't convincing.
"We felt the government didn't prove its case and Mr. Marlinga's attorneys did," said jury forewoman Mary Shultz of Rochester.
"There were way too many loose ends," said juror Megan Bowman, an Ortonville homemaker. "There wasn't a whole puzzle."
Jurors said it took two days to reach a verdict because they carefully reviewed the evidence to make sure they weren't overlooking anything.
Bowman and juror Sue Kramer, a Rochester teacher, said the single best witness was Marlinga, who convinced jurors that he was honorable and ethical. They said he did the right thing when he intervened in one of the rape cases -- that of Jeffrey Moldowan, who was convicted in 1991 of raping and mutilating an ex-girlfriend.
"We all felt that it was the greatest thing that Carl Marlinga got on the stand," Kramer added. "You could get a real sense of who he is and what was in his heart."
Marlinga, reversing his office's long-standing position on the Moldowan case, filed a brief in January 2002 to the Michigan Supreme Court citing discredited bite-mark evidence and new witnesses that ultimately led to Moldowan's 2003 retrial and acquittal.
Prosecutors said that because Marlinga accepted contributions from Ralph Roberts -- a Warren real estate broker and Moldowan supporter -- just days before the brief was filed, Roberts had bought Marlinga's prosecutorial influence.
They also accused him of accepting $26,000 from defense lawyer Dennis Johnston -- including $4,000 prosecutors said was funneled through then-state Senate candidate James Barcia, a Bay City Democrat -- while discussing possible plea deals for one of Johnston's clients. The client, James Hulet, was accused of drugging and raping a teenage girl.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cares, who said during the trial that Marlinga's political ambition caused him to sell his influence, declined comment. His cocounsel, Jonathan Tukel, said later: "We always respect the jury's verdict."
U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy said it was a difficult case and congratulated Marlinga's lawyers.
Although the office had a string of high-visibility losses in the months before Murphy took the helm in 2005, he said: "No prosecutor's office in America will or should have a 100% batting average. We strive to do the right thing in every case."
Kriger gave Marlinga a hearty hug after the verdicts were announced.
"This is as sweet as it gets," Kriger said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, the jury gets it right," he said, adding that Wednesday's verdict was one of those times.
As soon as the verdicts were read, a sobbing Marlinga reached behind him to clutch his wife of 13 years, Barbara, who doubled over in tears.
"I kept telling her to have confidence in the system," Marlinga told reporters as he and his wife continued to cry.
Barbara Marlinga hugged her two sons -- Marlinga's stepsons -- and said, "I can finally sleep tonight!"
She managed to get through the ordeal, she said, because strangers frequently said they were pulling for Marlinga.
Marlinga said the case took a huge toll on his family and that it will leave him with a substantial legal bill, even though his lawyers gave him a discounted rate to represent him in the case because they believed in his innocence.
If he could do anything over again, Marlinga said, he would never have gone to the Dec. 18, 2001, Christmas party where he ran into Roberts and asked him to contribute to his campaign. Marlinga said in trial that he also promised to update Roberts on the Moldowan case.
Shortly after learning of the verdict, Roberts -- who initially had been indicted alongside Barcia before charges were dropped against both of them last summer -- said he was thrilled Marlinga was cleared.
"The jury was the hero for the Roberts family and the Marlinga family today," Roberts said. "This was four years of reckless destruction."
Thomas Cranmer, a former assistant U.S. attorney and prominent criminal defense lawyer, said the legal community kept close watch on the two-week trial.
"The case was hard-fought in terms of there certainly being a dogged prosecution and a vigorous defense as well," Cranmer said. "The system does work. The prosecution didn't prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That's the message you take from the verdict."
The Michigan State Police and the FBI began investigating Marlinga in late 2002. The investigation prompted Marlinga to drop out of the 2004 prosecutor's race, ending his 20-year run as a top vote-getter in Macomb County.
He proclaimed his innocence and said his faith in being acquitted never wavered. Some Macomb County residents said their belief in him also never wavered.
Sheriff Mark Hackel described the case as absurd.
"Carl does not have a criminal bone in his body. It was absurd to even think about -- or fathom -- Carl committing some kind of crime," Hackel said Wednesday night."
Marlinga praised FBI Agent Ronald Loch and Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. David Kelly for their work, but he said federal prosecutors chose to believe only part of the truth.
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said his office is happy that Marlinga, his former boss, can move on.
"This has been hanging over their heads in excess of four years," Smith said.
Besides potential prison time and fines, Marlinga also would have lost his license to practice law, which he's been doing privately since he stepped out of public office.
Contact AMBER HUNT at 313-222-2708 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Frank Witsil contributed.
||Truth in Justice