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Iverson ruling seen as fair, but courtroom antics cause a stir

Posted: Wednesday, July 31, 2002

PHILADELPHIA -- Allen Iverson's fame fueled a bizarre legal drama in which courtroom staff sought autographs and local celebrities filled the jury box.

But it was the weakness of the prosecution's case -- and not the NBA All-Star's celebrity -- that ultimately helped him, legal experts said.

Judge James DeLeon threw out all but a misdemeanor at a six-hour hearing into charges Iverson stormed into his cousin's apartment with a gun and threatened two men while looking for his wife. Only two counts of making terroristic threats remain.

''Given the record before Judge DeLeon, did anyone in the English-speaking world really think a conviction would be likely?'' Edward Ohlbaum, a Temple University law professor, said Tuesday.

Prosecutors accused the Philadelphia 76ers' guard of throwing his wife, Tawanna, out of their suburban mansion and then barging into Shaun Bowman's apartment July 3 while looking for her. There, he threatened Charles Jones and Jones' friend Hakim Carey, the men said.

But Jones and Carey fell apart on the witness stand.

Under questioning by Iverson's lawyer, Carey said he never actually saw a gun. Jones acknowledged he spoke with a personal injury lawyer before calling police more than 10 hours later. And Bowman, Jones' roommate, testified that Iverson paid rent on the apartment and had permission to enter.

Defense lawyer Theodore Simon, who was in the courtroom Monday but is not connected to the case, said Bowman's testimony was a key to Iverson's victory.

''Iverson pays the rent; he's a relative who had unfettered access to the apartment. I think once that was established, that changed the complexion of the case,'' Simon said.

The district attorney's office has not announced whether it will refile some or all of the charges against Iverson and his uncle, Gregory Iverson, accused of accompanying Iverson to the apartment.

Iverson technically still faces five to 10 years in prison, although any jail time is unlikely, even if he is convicted of both remaining counts. A trial date has not been set. Iverson released a statement Tuesday through one of his attorneys, Lawrence W. Woodward, Jr., thanking supporters and saying he would not comment further until the legal process is concluded.

''I respect the decision of the Court at the preliminary hearing and look forward to a final resolution of the remaining charge, and am confident that I will be exonerated,'' Iverson said.

''I am glad that there was an opportunity in a court of law to reveal some of the facts about the events of July 3, 2002, and some of the facts about the people involved in those events,'' the statement said.

While many had predicted an Iverson legal victory, the courtroom antics caused a stir.

Municipal Court Administrative Judge Seamus P. McCaffery, who popped in and out of the courtroom, marveled at the length of the hearing and its ''circuslike atmosphere.''

McCaffery said he personally booted a number of court staffers from the hearing. Workers from the district attorney's office tried to get in, but he wouldn't let them.

''My big concern was not the substance of the case. It was more along the lines of ... trying to make sure the image of our court was not dragged into this theatrical morass. And it ended up being that way,'' McCaffery said.

Defense exhibits were labeled as ''A.I. 1'' and ''A.I. 2,'' instead of the usual ''Defense 1 and Defense 2.'' Local celebrities, including a radio personality and several well-known lawyers, were allowed to sit in the jury box.

Court staffers gawked, asked for Iverson's autograph and shook his hand. And there were so many sheriff's deputies stationed in and out of the courtroom that other judges had to postpone their cases.

DeLeon, meanwhile, allowed Sprague to grill prosecution witnesses in a manner not usually permitted at a preliminary hearing, where the burden of proof is much lower to send charges to trial.

Prosecutor Charles Ehrlich objected repeatedly, asking: ''Why are the rules different today?'' DeLeon responded: ''We never want to withhold the truth for a later time.''

Ohlbaum, who wrote a book on criminal procedure in Pennsylvania, said judges usually limit defense questioning during a preliminary hearing. But he said DeLeon acted appropriately, given the witnesses' flip-flopping.

''If a judge found a witness to be incredible, the judge would not only have the right but the obligation to make that factual finding and dismiss the case,'' Ohlbaum said.



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