Advertisement

Jury Acquits Von Bulow in Second Trial

Times Staff Writer

Danish-born socialite Claus von Bulow, pursued by the state of Rhode Island for four years on charges that he twice tried to kill his heiress wife, was acquitted on both counts Monday by a jury that deliberated for 14 hours over four days in the retrial.

Von Bulow, 58, the centerpiece of these high-society proceedings, clasped his hands together and smiled when jury foreman Robert Rocchio firmly pronounced the defendant “not guilty” on both counts of trying to murder Martha (Sunny) von Bulow by injecting her with insulin.

Many in the courtroom applauded and cheered; one spectator sighed and said, “Justice is done” and fainted into the arms of a woman sitting next to her.

“I’m very relieved and grateful to my attorneys and to the people of Providence who have shown me grace and kindness and support,” said Von Bulow, whose tailored European suits and regal bearing seem more at home in the wealthy playground of Newport than in this working class city 40 miles away.

Advertisement

Will Lead ‘Quiet Life’

When asked about his plans, he said he intends “to lead a quiet life out of the public eye.”

The jury, a middle-class panel of eight women and four men, declined to discuss its decision in the 9-week trial. The jurors had been sequestered since April 22 and prevented from seeing or hearing anything about the case outside the courtroom.

Von Bulow was convicted after a 1982 trial in Newport on the same charges. That conviction was overturned on appeal for two reasons: Police failed to obtain a search warrant before testing some drugs found at the Von Bulow home, and a private investigator’s notes were not made available to the defense.

Advertisement

Mrs. Von Bulow, 53, the heir to a $75-million Pittsburgh utilities fortune, lapsed into a coma two days after Christmas in 1979 during a visit to her ocean-front Clarendon Court estate. She recovered but fell ill a year later, again during the holidays in Newport. She remains in an irreversible coma in a New York City hospital.

Alexander von Auersperg, 25, and Annie-Laurie (Ala) Kneissel, 26, Mrs. Von Bulow’s children by her first marriage, were bitterly angry and disappointed Monday.

In a prepared statement read by Von Auersperg, they said their stepfather “succeeded in depriving our mother of meaningful life and now he’s gotten away with it. We know and he knows that he tried to murder our mother.”

The stepchildren--whose father, Prince Alfred (Alfie) von Auersperg, also is in a coma, the result of a car accident--criticized Judge Corinne P. Grande. She barred prosecution testimony, allowed at the first trial in Newport, that Von Bulow stood to inherit $14 million if his wife died.

Advertisement

Prosecutors had alleged that Von Bulow wanted to kill his wife to be free to marry Alexandra Isles, his mistress at the time. They said the potential inheritance, along with a prenuptial agreement that would leave Von Bulow with nothing in the event of a divorce, was important to establishing a motive.

‘Best That We Could’

“We tried as hard as we could and did the best that we could,” said Marc DeSisto, one of the state’s attorneys. When asked if it was a mistake to retry Von Bulow, prosecutor Henry Gemma Jr. said: “Absolutely not.”

Over the last four years, the bizarre Von Bulow case has been tried in the court of public opinion as well as in courts of law.

Advertisement

Cable News Network broadcast nearly 70 hours of the retrial live, and newspapers and television stations in the Northeast, where the Von Bulows were well-known society figures in both New York City and Newport, have also provided daily accounts of the mud-slinging by both factions of the Von Bulow clan.

When the retrial ended Monday, three days after the Von Bulows’ 19th wedding anniversary, downtown Providence took on the air of a high-society celebration.

With Companion, Daughter

Von Bulow, his current companion, Andrea Reynolds, and his daughter by Sunny, 18-year-old Cosima, posed for photographers and shook the hands of passers-by outside the courtroom and on city streets.

Advertisement

Judge Grande had told the jurors that they were not being asked to “solve a mystery,” but the tale had many elements of one--a “black bag” filled with syringes and barbiturates; a mistress, Isles, the former soap opera actress who gave the aristocrat Claus a marriage deadline, and the handsome, titled children who launched an investigation into their mother’s sudden coma.

Truman Capote, C.Z. Guest, Joanna Carson and other well-known society figures were mentioned in the case at one time or another. But when the retrial began, it became plain that defense attorney Thomas P. Puccio, who as a deputy U.S. attorney prosecuted Abscam cases as well as the “Serpico” case involving New York police corruption, was relying solely on the testimony of medical experts.

Drugs, Alcohol Cited

Experts with worldwide medical reputations testified that the comas were probably caused by a near-fatal mixture of drugs and alcohol--and not by insulin injection.

Advertisement

The defense in the first trial had contended that Mrs. Von Bulow injected herself with the insulin.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who handled Von Bulow’s successful appeal, criticized the stepchildren’s attorneys and prosecutors for “turning a medical tragedy, the coma, into a legal tragedy that wasted five years of a man’s life.”

“If they had done the same medical investigating we did instead of rushing to judgment, they would have realized there was just no case,” he said.

Free on $1-Million Bond

Advertisement

Von Bulow, free on $1-million bond since his 1982 conviction, never spent a day in jail. He has been living in Mrs. Von Bulow’s 5th Avenue apartment in New York with Cosima and Andrea Reynolds. He receives $120,000 annually from a trust set up by his wife.

The legal ramifications of the case may not be over, however. Father Philip Magaldi, a Providence priest, has been indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for signing an affidavit--not used at the trial--that supported Von Bulow’s contention that he was being framed by his stepchildren, the Boston Globe has reported.

Magaldi’s affidavit was used in Von Bulow’s motion for a new trial, a motion that became moot when the state Supreme Court overturned his conviction. In it, Magaldi corroborated the affidavit of David Marriott of Wakefield, Mass., who said he had delivered drugs to Alexander von Auersperg at Clarendon Court. Marriott has since recanted his affidavit, saying that Von Bulow had put him up to it.


Advertisement