Defendant proves to be his own worst witness Navy captain damaged own case, juror says.

May 06, 1991|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Judy Haxton, forewoman of the jury that convicted retired U.S. Navy Capt. James E. Weston of charges of conspiracy, bribery and obstruction of justice, was asked after court what convinced the panel of his guilt.

She answered in two words: "Captain Weston."

The jury deliberated only two hours and 15 minutes Friday, including a 35-minute lunch, in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before convicting Weston of seven criminal charges.

The indictment charged him with official misconduct -- receiving gifts from, and selling Amway products to contractors with whom he conducted official business as the academy's public works officer from 1985 to 1989, steering contracts to his Amway customers and hiding documents from a grand jury last year.

Prosecutors Jane F. Barrett and Richard C. Kay said Weston corrupted his position of public trust and the Navy's contracting process by putting his hand out to contractors for favors and steering lucrative academy contracts to them in return.

"I hope this conviction shows that no matter how high you are, no matter how insulated, as a captain or a contractor or a civil servant, seeking favors will not be tolerated," Barrett said. "Government employees cannot have their hands out."

Weston, 47, of Henderson, Nev., sat stone-faced as he heard the verdicts. "I'm very surprised," he said later. "Other than that, I don't have anything to say."

His wife, Mary, herself a Navy reservist, left the courtroom in tears after the verdict.

Defense lawyer William M. Ferris said Weston will appeal his convictions.

"I feel that the judge let the government put far too much irrelevant and prejudicial material into evidence," Ferris said.

Ferris said he also objected to several jury instructions read by Judge John R. Hargrove that could have unfairly swayed the panel to convict.

Weston denied steering contracts to his Amway customers and insisted that he paid cash to Annapolis contractor Carroll R. Dunton, who bought appliances for him at discount prices.

But Weston admitted that he repeatedly sought favors from Dunton, cheated on his income tax, violated the Navy's Standards of Conduct and did not report his Amway income on Defense Department financial disclosure forms.

Haxton said the jury had difficulty believing the testimony of two key government witnesses, Dunton and Eugene E. Hook, a Weston subordinate at the academy, because both have pleaded guilty to criminal charges tied to Weston's misconduct.

However, the forewoman said an abundance of corroborating evidence helped make the Dunton and Hook testimony credible.

In the end, Haxton said, it was Weston who convicted himself "by his answers to some questions and his inability to answer others."

Weston faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison without parole when he is sentenced July 30.

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