Governor Sean Parnell and several legislators took part in a rally in Juneau yesterday (Wednesday), demanding justice for the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens.
The organizers want federal prosecutors held accountable for cutting corners in order to convict Stevens of ethics violations in 2008.
KTOO’s Casey Kelly was there, and has this report.
Lawmakers from all political parties crowded onto the Capitol steps, while about a hundred protesters stood on the sidewalk across the street. Many held signs or wore stickers saying “Justice for Ted.”
Rally organizer Ken Koelsch – a retired Juneau Douglas High School teacher – recalled working as a campaign volunteer for Stevens.
“The Juneau steering committee gathered more frequently in an election year. But if Ted was in town to address the Legislature or to talk to Juneau constituents, he would make sure he gathered us all together for a meal and conversation,” Koelsch said. “Friendship and respect for Senator Stevens runs deep in the community of Juneau.”
In 2008, a federal jury convicted Stevens of making false statements on financial disclosure forms, just days before the longest serving Republican in Senate history lost his race for re-election. Less than a year later, the conviction was voided and the indictment dismissed after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered prosecutorial misconduct.
Stevens died in a plane crash in August 2010.
Sally Smith works in the Juneau office of Senator Mark Begich, who defeated Stevens in the 2008 election. Smith read a statement praising Stevens’ legacy and decrying the circumstances of his conviction.
“There is no question that Senator Stevens’ legacy of accomplishment for our state is enormous,” Smith said. “So, it is especially troubling that a person of his stature didn’t get a fair hearing in our criminal justice system.”
Begich is co-sponsor of a bill introduced by Alaska’s other Senator, Lisa Murkowski, called the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act of 2012. It would require prosecutors to turn over evidence that could help the defense – something the prosecution in Stevens’ case failed to do.
Governor Sean Parnell – wearing an Incredible Hulk tie like the one favored by Stevens – all but blamed the government lawyers’ wrongdoing for Stevens losing his seat in the Senate.
“Our beloved Senator was indicted, he was tried, convicted and removed from the Senate under conditions that no one in our country should or will accept,” said Parnell.
Juneau Representative Cathy Munoz said Stevens always worked in the best interests of Alaskans, and now it is time for Alaskans to work for him.
“Thank you all for being here today to support Ted Stevens, to recognize his incredible legacy, and to hold federal prosecutors accountable,” said Munoz. “Justice must be done.”
As the rally broke up, organizer Ken Koelsch said justice in this case would mean holding the prosecutors accountable.
“We want to hold our public officials to public trust. We should hold people that are non-elected in those positions to the same public trust,” Koelsch said. “And so, if there’s an abuse on either side, justice should be done, and it hasn’t been so far.”
Another rally demanding justice for Ted Stevens was held last week in Anchorage.
A 500-page report on the botched prosecution by an independent investigator found widespread concealment of evidence, but did not recommend charges against the prosecutors.