Former Michigan standout and Sacramento Kings all-star forward Chris Webber is not out of the woods yet.
Despite the unexpected death Friday of Ed Martin, the prosecution’s key witness in its investigation of Webber, the trial scheduled for July will proceed as planned, the U.S. attorney’s office said yesterday.
“We analyzed our case, and we believe we have enough evidence to proceed,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett, head of the office’s Organized Crime Strike Force. “(Ed Martin) was not our only piece of evidence.”
Martin testified before a grand jury about his relationship with Webber, but according to a confrontation clause in the U.S. Constitution, Martin’s testimony can no longer be used in the proceedings.
The confrontation clause requires that the lawyer for the defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Because Webber’s attorney, Steven Fishman of Detroit, has never questioned Martin in court, the evidence Martin gave the government should be inadmissible, according to Supreme Court precedent.
Corbett does not know how much Martin’s absence from the trial will affect the prosecution’s chances at convicting Webber.
“I don’t know how to quantify that,” Corbett said. “We’re at a disadvantage now.”
At a previous hearing, Fishman requested that, because of Martin’s failing health, the prosecution allow a deposition between Fishman and Martin to take place. But the government refused to allow Fishman to question their star witness, hoping that Martin’s health would hold up until July.
Corbett said that a deposition is usually a “discovery tool” for the defendants.
“We operated on what was the best decision to make at the time,” he said..
Corbett said he did not know whether the next hearing, scheduled for Feb. 26, would be adjourned.
Fishman could not be reached for comment.
Martin, a retired Ford autoworker, pleaded guilty last May for using the proceeds from his illegal gambling ring to loan four University basketball players a total of $616,000 before and during their playing days at the University. As part of a plea bargain, Martin agreed to help prosecutors in the Webber investigation, as well as the NCAA’s investigation of the University’s basketball program. Martin confirmed he gave Webber $280,000 from 1988-93.
Webber, his father, Mayce, and his aunt, Charlene Johnson, were indicted in September on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to a federal grand jury in August 2000. The grand jury was investigating Martin’s illegal involvement in a lottery centered around Detroit-area auto plants. Webber and his family members are accused of lying about the money Webber received from Martin while he was in high school at Birmingham Detroit Country Day and at the University.