“Joan of Arkansas” defeats Kenneth Starr

Susan McDougal acquitted of obstruction of justice; mistrial declared on contempt charges.

Topics:

An ecstatic Susan McDougal won a major battle against independent counsel Kenneth Starr Monday when a jury of 12 Arkansans found her not guilty of obstruction of justice for refusing to testify before the independent counsel’s grand jury in 1996 and 1998.

Judge George Howard Jr. declared a mistrial on two criminal contempt of court charges after the jury of six men and six women were “hopelessly deadlocked” on the counts. Nine jurors said continued deliberations would be a waste of time. Outside the courthouse, jurors said that seven had supported a not guilty verdict.

A radiant McDougal, dressed in what she called her lucky white pant suit, shouted with joy and hugged her fianc?, Pat Harris, and attorney Mark Geragos when Howard announced the verdict. Jim Henley, McDougal’s brother, smiled at his sister while other family members began crying.

“I had a fair trial and my day in court and I thank you for that,” said McDougal in court after the jury exited.

McDougal, who has had a cloud of indictments over her since 1993, already served 18 months in prison for civil contempt. She served two months of a two-year term on four felony convictions in her 1996 trial before Howard released her from prison because of a back problem.

Jurors began deliberations last Thursday. On Friday, Howard froze deliberations when juror Michael Nance brought a law book. The book once belonged to a former Arkansas state supreme court justice, John Purtle, who has publicly criticized past Whitewater investigations by Kenneth Starr. Nance said he acquired the book when he bought a house Purtle once owned, and found it there. At the end of the day, Howard opted to keep the juror and resume deliberations Monday morning.

The verdict came unexpectedly. Reporters were waiting outside the courthouse when word came at 11 a.m. that the jury had a question, or a possible verdict. Geragos was working out at a local gym when he was paged and told to return to the courthouse in 40 minutes.

“This verdict clearly shows that Ken Starr was not seeking the truth,” Geragos said on the steps of the federal courthouse. “It’s a stake in the heart of Ken Starr and sends a clear signal to pack up and get out of here.”

Indeed, the prosecution seemed rattled by the verdict. Prosecutor Mark Barrett asked Howard the proper procedure in order to question each juror. Howard informed Barrett that he must file a formal motion in order to question individual jurors about the case, and Barrett says he intends to file such a motion this week.



He also said he had consulted with Starr and that a retrial is “definitely an option that we’ll be looking at” within the next two weeks. Barrett has 10 weeks to file new charges against McDougal and place her on trial again.

McDougal, smiling glowingly in front of cameras and reporters, said she felt like acquittal on the obstruction of justice charge was the big victory she sought. “I didn’t believe they wanted the truth,” she told listeners.

That statement has been McDougal’s mantra from the start of Starr’s investigation into President Clinton’s and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in the failed Whitewater real estate development scheme. The Clintons invested in the project with McDougal and her late ex-husband James McDougal.

“The great thing for me was not the verdict, it was more that I got my day in court, and I got to tell everything that I had been wanting to tell for years, and we got to put on evidence of the lives that Kenneth Starr has ruined,” said McDougal. After talking with reporters, McDougal, Geragos and family members dashed off to the Capital Hotel for a celebration breakfast with champagne.

Throughout McDougal’s trial, the courtroom was filled with McDougal groupies who came from far and near — Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, California — to back the woman they refer to as “Joan of Arkansas,” a saint who defied the government. Not surprisingly, they look at today’s verdict as a major defeat for Starr.

“I think Ken Starr lost today, big time,” said Lisa Ritterbush of Mufreesboro, Ark., who has been in the courtroom nearly daily to support a woman she had never met until this trial started. “The verdict says to Starr, ‘We don’t approve of the way you treat people and we take care of our own.’ I think Susan has been abused enough, and everyone is tired of it. “

For nearly five weeks, a stream of defense and prosecution witnesses attempted to map out the events that led to the office of independent counsel’s charging McDougal with obstruction of justice and contempt of court. Defense attorney Geragos tried to put Starr on trial with McDougal. He attributed his client’s refusal to testify before Starr’s grand jury to her fear of being prosecuted for perjury if Starr didn’t like her testimony. In closing arguments, Geragos said, “This is something you expect to find in the Third Reich.”

The prosecution took a blow when Julie Hiatt Steele appeared as a witness for the defense. Starr indicted Steele for allegedly lying to grand jurors when, after initially corroborating it, she denied former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey’s claim that she had told Steele that Clinton had made an unwelcome sexual advance toward her in 1993. Steele testified that in fact she was indicted because she refused to give false testimony against Clinton — the very thing McDougal claimed to fear. She told the jury she owed $500,000 in legal bills and is about to lose the house where she has lived for 20 years.

The prosecution tried to dismiss McDougal’s fear of Starr and focus on the fact that McDougal was keeping pertinent information regarding Clinton — information that actually helped exonerate Clinton.

Over the trial’s course, the prosecution called 10 witnesses and three rebuttal witnesses. It also showed year-old videotaped testimony from Hillary Rodham Clinton, and a three-and-a-half hour unedited video of Diane Sawyer’s interview with McDougal in 1996. In off-camera statements, McDougal said that she wanted the independent counsel dead. When Sawyer asked if McDougal was serious, she answered, “Yes.”

The defense called seven witnesses, going for the heart instead of the head. Geragos subpoenaed Claudia Riley, a former Arkansas first lady and Susan and Jim McDougal’s friend, and Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, a chaplain at Metro Detention Center, the prison where McDougal spent jail time. Riley testified that she was frightened for McDougal and urged her to help Starr, but that McDougal refused as a matter of conscience. Riley told jurors that McDougal was “the epitome of all that’s good and noble” and “the strongest young woman in the world.” Kriegel painted a portrait of a changed woman, who helped fellow inmates and turned the jail dynamics from dismal to upbeat.

Throughout the trial, McDougal played the role of a gracious, charming Southern belle, who married a man 15 years her senior and tried to make it work. And she played that role to the hilt after the verdict Monday, inviting everyone in the courtroom to celebrate her victory over Starr at the Capitol Hotel.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>