Law may keep Easley testimony under wraps

Fmr. Governor Mike Easley testifies before the State Board of Elections
November 1, 2010 9:19:22 PM PDT
A state law may offer former governor Mike Easley some cover as federal and state investigations heat up.It turns out, testimony the former governor and his associates gave the Board of Elections last year may not be admissible in court.

The testimony wouldn't be allowed because of the state law that basically says if someone is subpoenaed by the Board of Elections and they testify, what they say won't be rehashed later on down the road.

However Easley's case if different, after allegations arose that he used campaign money for home improvement and took free gifts including tens of thousands of dollars in free flights.

Easley denied it all, but testimony from the BOE hearings could still bring trouble for Easley in upcoming criminal cases unless the state law applies.

"One of the words used in this very lengthy statute is immunity, so the question is what is he immune from," former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said.

Shanahan says under state law the very fact Easley testified could make everything from those hearings off limits to state prosecutors.

"He's not immune from being prosecuted," she said. "It's just that the prosecuting authorities will not be able to use the testimony he gave or documents he produced during his testimony."

"In other cases similar to this, we've seen them proceed with litigation outside the bounds of the Board of Elections hearings," democratic consultant Brad Crone said.

Crone says he doesn't expect this to derail the state's case against Easley, but says an appeal could slow it to a crawl.

"It's going to end up in an absolute dog fight in the superior courtroom," Crone said.

However, Shanahan says there is a way around the law by having a solid case that doesn't rely on testimony already given.

"The safest way to proceed for the prosecution, in my opinion, is to ensure before you indict, that you have ample evidence, totally disregarding anything the governor said at that Board of Elections hearing," she said.

There are two cases currently being built against Easley on the state and federal level.

The feds aren't bound by state law, so if there's an appeal and it puts the brakes on the state's case the feds may still forge ahead with theirs.

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