By JUAN MCCARTNEY ~ NG Senior Reporter ~ firstname.lastname@example.org:
The defense attorney for former Senator Pleasant Bridgewater alleged yesterday that his client was the victim of a widespread conspiracy involving West End and Bimini MP Obie Wilchcombe, Opposition Senate leader Allyson Maynard-Gibson and the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Murrio Ducille said Bridgewater entered into an innocent sales negotiation that turned into a set-up to discredit and destroy her.
Bridgewater and ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne are accused of attempting to extort $25 million from American actor John Travolta after the death of his 16-year-old son Jett on Grand Bahama on January 2.
The nine jurors in the attempted extortion trial are expected to deliberate and possibly return a verdict today.
When Ducille began closing arguments Monday he said that Wilchcombe was the initiator of the plot, when he called Travolta's American attorney Michael McDermott to tell him about a document her client, Lightbourne, had.
According to Ducille, the plot thickened when Travolta's American attorney Michael McDermott sought to "shift focus" away from international media speculation that Travolta was negligent in his son's death.
"Whatever error she made was not criminal," Ducille said, "yet she finds herself sitting here... fighting for her freedom for an offense that she has not committed. The law does not work that way. It is supposed to protect, not to destroy."
Both defendants are also accused of conspiracy to extort money from Travolta. Bridgewater alone is charged with abetment to extortion.
The prosecution has asserted that the pair demanded the money in exchange for the suppression of a refusal to transport document that Travolta signed, because he claimed he wanted to fly his son to West Palm Beach for medical treatment, as opposed to traveling from the Old Bahama Bay Resort to the Rand Memorial Hospital.
Ducille said McDermott "gave birth" to the extortion plot and lured Bridgewater into meetings under false pretenses, claiming that he wanted to purchase her client's (Lightbourne's) silence, but was working with the police to frame her for extortion.
He said the plan was ultimately to shift the focus of negative international media attention Travolta was receiving after his son's death away from the actor and on to Bridgewater and Lightbourne.
"They cannot afford to have any adverse publicity. So what does (McDermott) do?" Ducille asked. "Set up a bogus charge so that the focus shifts."
Throughout his address to the jury, Ducille maintained that Bridgewater was only doing her job as an attorney.
"Extortionists don't negotiate," Ducille said. "If I am extorting you, you pay me 'x' amount of dollars or I do so and so. It was a business transaction. Whether it's outrageous or not, it's a negotiation. Where is the intent to extort? Where is the extortion — period?"
Ducille said McDermott came to The Bahamas to look into buying the document, and that McDermott testified that he called Bridgewater to set up their meeting at his hotel room on January 19.
"He came to see an extortionist? Can you believe this?" Ducille asked. "If a man is robbing you, do you run to be robbed? This was a joke to Mr. McDermott. He came to The Bahamas with the sole intent of setting up these persons."
Ducille pointed out that extortion requires that a demand and a threat be made from one person to another. Pointing to numerous witness testimonies — as well as that of Travolta's — Ducille said that at no time did Bridgewater ever speak to Travolta directly. He added that in the January 19 meeting, which police videotaped, there is no clear evidence that Bridgewater made a demand of or threatened Travolta.
"The only thing that (McDermott) has on tape is to show that there is negotiation to buy a document, or to buy Mr. Lightbourne's silence," said Ducille, adding that McDermott still attempted to "turn it around into an extortion."
Ducille said that at the end of the day, Bridgewater should have never been arrested or brought to trial.
"This case is a very strange one," he said. "I've been a prosecutor and I've never seen it before. She was doing her job. Somebody comes to her and now she is a co-conspirator."
He told the jurors that they have learned a lot throughout the course of the trial, including "that persons can come here, swear on the Bible and tell lies." He was referring to McDermott.
The defense attorney also said that Bridgewater regrets that Jett died, but it had nothing to do with her.
"Persons can die though they be alive," he said. "My client has been dying. What she wants at this point is a renewal of life."
Claiming that "the prosecution has failed miserably in their efforts to destroy" Bridgewater, Ducille said that, "evil never conquers good."
"It never happens," he said. "Not even in the movies. All I ask of you is that you set my people free."
October 21, 2009
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