NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places
New Evidence Puts Ganier Trial on Hold
(Story created: 8/2/05)
Just as a friend of former Gov. Don Sundquist prepared to face a jury, a fight over some newly discovered evidence brought Al Ganier's trial to a screeching halt.
Ganier, founder of Education Networks of America, is accused of obstructing the federal investigation of state contracts by trying to delete computer files relating to his big state contracts.
But it was new evidence -- and Ganier's efforts to keep a jury from hearing it -- that put the trial on hold.
Ganier came to federal court, ready to put on a defense that anything he did to delete computer files was entirely innocent. But, first, he convinced the judge to exclude evidence from his own computers.
"It absolutely gives the defense something else they have to explain," says defense attorney Tommy Overton.
The evidence suggests that, just before the friend of the governor deleted the files, he may have been searching for documents with key words at the center of the contracts case.
Among the words:
"Alex Fischer," Sundquist's deputy governor
"Stamps," a reference to another Sundquist friend, John Stamps
And "Jackie," an apparent reference to a Sundquist contracting official Jackie Shrago to whom Ganier has been linked romantically.
"It was our position that the law required them to give that to us earlier," said Ganier lawyer Aubrey Harwell.
In fact, Ganier's lawyers convinced the judge to exclude the new evidence, saying handing it over just before trial wasn't fair.
Prosecutor Eli Richardson responded, "It seems ... that the defense simply does not like what the testimony would be."
Such battles, Overton said, often heavily influence the outcome of trials.
"Sometimes, it's maybe not where trials are won and lost, but it's whether either the prosecution or defense gets a big advantage."
So prosecutors decided to take the fight to a higher court, putting the Ganier trial on indefinite hold.
Both sides agree that the appeal puts the Ganier trial off for weeks, maybe even months.
As for the new evidence, because of court rules, Ganier's lawyers aren't discussing it outside court.
But Overton expects they'll argue this was just one more innocent act that's being misinterpreted by prosecutors.