Tyson defense had guard down during first week

February 03, 1992|By Thomas Stinson | Thomas Stinson,Atlanta Constitution-Journal

INDIANAPOLIS -- Frowning, tireless and austere with an extra shake of starch, Vincent Fuller may well be the best American trial lawyer living today. He intimidates judges, steamrolls juries and plays witnesses like chess pieces. He earns some $5,000 a day.

And some of the people involved with Mike Tyson want to know when will he start earning it.

Dangerous as it is to handicap a legal proceeding before it is half-over, Tyson's rape case has been one pile-driver after another upon the defendant as the trial entered its second week today. Tyson had begun Week 1 by --ing up the stairs for the first session in Marion Superior Courtroom 4. Saturday, he trudged.

Lead prosecutor Greg Garrison, who had lectured the jury that there "is no perfect case," has come intriguingly close to bringing one and is expected to wrap up his presentation by tomorrow. And while Fuller must sway only one juror to gain a hung jury, the defense is still backpedaling.

Measuring the week, retired Marion Superior Court Judge John Tranberg said Fuller was "so plodding, so methodical, it's hard to tell how it's going to play with a jury."

It has not played well to the three seats reserved for Tyson's supporters a few feet from the defense table. John Horne,Tyson's camp coordinator and crony, accosted Fuller Thursday, according to a courtroom guard, and screamed, "What the hell are you doing?" Fuller scornfully stared Horne off.

To date, the defense has won Tyson just one major concession: Some potentially damaging testimony from limousine driver Virginia Foster -- who alleged in her deposition that Tyson exposed himself in one of three sexual advances he made toward her -- was not admitted as evidence.

Otherwise, Garrison has done all the scoring, and Fuller's tension may have surfaced during a Saturday recess, when the defense openly suggested Garrison coached Dr. Thomas Richardson, who treated the victim in Methodist Hospital emergency room. Richardson acknowledged reading some gynecological journals in preparation to his testimony.

Bristling, Garrison barked at Fuller and assisting counsel Kathleen Beggs, "You may not like the testimony, but I'm not going to acquiesce on this!"

In an earlier routine procedure, Fuller openly bungled the introduction of some hotel registration cards into evidence simply because he presented the cards at the wrong time during testimony. Beggs lost an embarrassing major point on the matter of Tyson's phone bill and a mysterious call to Cleveland because she failed to understand the bill-dating method at the Canterbury Hotel. The realization of her mistake caused her to freeze as she walked across the courtroom.

Saturday, Beggs was so confused in cross-examining Dr. James Akin, an expert witness on gynecology, that she suddenly objected to a surprising Akin response. Judge Patricia Gifford almost laughed aloud as she asked, "You're objecting to the answer?" Beggs also asked for a recess so she might study a gynecological journal, indicating she had underprepared.

It was believed that the defense would hold the edge in such resource matters, for if Tyson has any advantage, it should be his representation. Williams & Connolly placed at least eight lawyers on the preparation of the case (against two full-time lawyers for the prosecution). At most, Garrison, a private attorney hired specially for the case, will make $20,000 for his work. The defense may spend that amount on copying documents alone.

But most bewildering through the first week was Fuller himself. He has a bellowing voice, as if cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn had gone to an Ivy League school. But he speaks in such spurts, witnesses have continually asked to have his questions repeated. Whereas Garrison has portrayed himself to the jury as a down-home Hoosier who frequently sits on the prosecution table, Fuller often addresses the jury from a lectern as if he was in some federal court. That he accused Tyson of "having bad manners" in his opening argument is almost laughable in the light of the vivid ensuing testimony.

But the defense has still to bring its case, and the anticipation builds that Fuller might roll some testimonial cannon into the courtroom one morning and blow the case away. Wandering through a hotel lobby yesterday afternoon, Tyson adviser Don King said, "I'm more worried about getting George Bush re-elected than I am about the case."

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