Federal authorities have done a disservice to Ted Stevens and to Alaska with their shoddy handling of this high-profile corruption case. Their misconduct denied Stevens a fair trial and deprived Alaskans of a final, unassailable judgment on the legitimacy of the allegations against him. The Obama administration's new attorney general, Eric Holder, showed good judgment in deciding Stevens' conviction was tainted and should be set aside.
As a responsible prosecutor, Holder could not defend a jury verdict where the government repeatedly failed to disclose potentially helpful evidence to the defense. Convicting someone requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a fair trial. Federal prosecutors did not meet that standard in this case.
Holder's decision not to retry Stevens was a good call as well. Having narrowly lost his re-election bid, the 85-year old ex-senator has already paid a heavy price for his dealings with former power broker and friend Bill Allen.
Whether prosecutors were merely harried and sloppy due to an accelerated trial schedule or were knowingly deceptive, they botched the case. During the trial, prosecutors were repeatedly caught withholding key information from the defense and drew repeated rebukes from the judge.
After the verdict, more allegations against the prosecution team came out and the government had to admit still more errors and missteps. The government's case reached the point where it was irretrievably compromised.
The Department of Justice must now follow through with its investigation of the prosecution team and publicly disclose the results. If its conduct was indeed unethical, the offenders should be punished.
Meanwhile, just as we and others feared during the trial, Alaskans are left without an impartial judgment as to Stevens' guilt or innocence.
It's clear that Sen. Stevens received unpaid home renovation help and other gifts from a powerful lobbyist and patron who has since pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators. What's not clear is whether Stevens in fact broke federal disclosure laws. Alaskans are left to argue whether the government's unfair conduct during his trial cost him his re-election.
Both Sen. Stevens and Alaskans deserved much better from the federal government.
BOTTOM LINE: Ending the case against Ted Stevens was the right move, but that means Alaskans will never get an impartial evaluation of the charges against him.