Although Chris Webber’s trial begins tomorrow, the former University of Michigan and current Sacramento Kings superstar seems to have received a head start through pretrial hearings. Both Chris and his father Mayce still face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perjury charges, but the case has undergone many changes in the last two months.
On June 12, the prosecution narrowed its case against both Webbers by dropping the obstruction of justice charge. According to Chris’s attorney Steve Fishman, Judge Nancy Edmunds dropped the charges when the defense made a motion for a Bill of Particulars. The Bill forced the prosecution to clarify exactly what they were claiming the Webbers had done. Without key witness and former Michigan basketball booster Ed Martin, who died last February, Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett decided to dismiss the obstructions count.
“(Webber now) faces fewer counts rather than more counts,” Fishman said. “Any time you get rid of one theory of the prosecution, it’s significant.”
Last Tuesday, Edmunds ruled that some of the prosecution’s key evidence – including Martin’s hand-written notes which chronicled gifts to Chris totaling $280,000 – would be disallowed. In the defense’s argument to prohibit the evidence, they cited United States v Laster which holds that “the business record exception is only available if the evidence sought to be introduced was (1) made in the course of a regularly conducted business activity; (2) kept in the regular course of business; (3) as a result of a ‘regular practice of business’ to create documents; and (4) made by a person with knowledge of the transaction or from information transmitted by a person with knowledge.” In documents submitted to the court, the defense claimed that “only the fourth factor can arguably be satisfied by the government.”
Edmunds also ruled Tuesday that the prosecution cannot receive testimony from the three other players who received money from Martin – Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock – unless they are rebuttal witnesses. The government cannot incorporate Martin’s financial records regarding the trio either. Edmunds felt that because none of the trio attended Michigan at the same time as Webber, referencing them would be irrelevant.
A final pretrial hearing is scheduled today, and Edmunds still has many things to address. First, the judge needs to make a decision on the possible testimony of journalist Mitch Albom. The defense wants Albom to take the stand because he followed Webber in high school and college as a writer for the Detroit Free Press. He also wrote an all-access book called “Fab Five,” which chronicled the basketball careers of Chris Webber and four of his Michigan teammates from the time they arrived at the University in 1991. There hasn’t been a final ruling on a wiretapping of Martin speaking about the money that Webber owed him, but Edmunds has indicated that she will probably disallow this evidence.