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‘I’ll Just Pray,’ Marcos Says as Fraud Case Goes to Jury

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imelda Marcos, once the rich and powerful wife of a dictator in her native Philippines, broke into tears Thursday as a working class Manhattan jury prepared to deliberate federal fraud and racketeering charges against her.

The panel of seven women and five men, sitting in judgment 8,498 miles from Manila, deliberated little more than an hour before retiring for the night without a verdict. The sequestered panel will work through the weekend if necessary.

The final phase of the emotion-charged trial that began three months ago ended on a somewhat dramatic note.

Moments before U.S. Dist. Judge John Keenan formally gave the case to the jury, Mrs. Marcos was left alone at the defense table while attorneys conferred with the judge outside the courtroom at the request of her lawyer, Gerry Spence.

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The 60-year-old widow of ousted Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, dressed in mourning black as she has been throughout the trial, began to cry softly. One juror wiped her own eyes.

After the jury was dismissed, supporters of Mrs. Marcos rushed to embrace her in the crowded courtroom. Asked what she would do while awaiting the verdict, she said:

“I’ll just pray. Life is fragile. I’ll handle it with prayers.”

The case against Mrs. Marcos ended late the day before with federal prosecutor Charles LaBella stacking bound packs of freshly minted Philippine pesos on the railing in front of jurors and asking them if the crisp pesos looked like campaign contributions from farmers.

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The assistant U.S. attorney’s scathing rebuttal to earlier defense arguments also left Mrs. Marcos in tears.

She faces up to 50 years in prison and a $1-million fine if convicted of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and obstructing justice.

The jurors also are considering mail fraud and obstruction of justice charges against Saudi businessman and co-defendant Adnan Khashoggi, 54.

The judge told the jury to consider how much Mrs. Marcos knew of the alleged crimes. But he added that she can be found guilty if she “closed her eyes” to whether stolen money was used for investments in the United States.

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Mrs. Marcos’ knowledge was a central theme in closing arguments earlier in the week.

LaBella said the widow of the ousted dictator had to know that “dirty money"--more than $200 million--was used to buy four New York buildings, jewelry and art work.

Defense attorney Spence denied she was aware of the transactions and said the case was a prosecutor’s fantasy.

Thursday’s court session was devoted almost entirely to Keenan’s reading of the laws that apply to allegations against Mrs. Marcos and Khashoggi.

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Mrs. Marcos spent an hour-long lunch break at nearby St. Andrews Church. And Khashoggi, while waiting out the first hour of jury deliberation in the afternoon, sat alone for a time at the defense table reading the Koran.

He said he hopes to be acquitted in time to take part in the holy pilgrimage to Mecca next week.


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