Jurors Begin Deliberations in Stevens Trial

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens hoped for a verdict in his corruption trial by Election Day. With jurors scheduled to begin deliberating Wednesday, he'll probably get it.

Now it's just a question of whether he'll get the verdict he wants.

Stevens, 84, is charged with lying on Senate financial disclosure forms about $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts he received from his friend, millionaire oil contractor Bill Allen.

If Stevens has his way, he'll soon return home to Alaska vindicated and rejuvenated, the weight of a two-year FBI investigation finally lifted. The final days before Election Day would be something of a victory tour before he reclaims a Senate seat he's held for 40 years.

Democrats envision a different future, whether Stevens prevails at trial or not. The corruption trial has weakened one of the Senate's legendary Republicans, and Democrats see an opportunity to seize a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

With Stevens vulnerable, Democrats have sought to capitalize. They have poured money behind Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, running television ads starring fictional FBI agents and featuring excerpts from wiretaps.

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sent an e-mail to supporters Tuesday urging them to back Begich and others involved in close races.

"With Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the White House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, there's nothing we can't accomplish," the e-mail read.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the outcomes of the election and the trial are linked.

"If the trial comes to a conclusion and, as he believes, that he is found innocent, I think that he will win that election up there," Ensign said Tuesday. "If it goes the other way, obviously it really won't matter what happens in the election."

Stevens has seen his reputation tarnished during the monthlong trial. He was pilloried during closing arguments Tuesday as prosecutors mocked him as crooked and two-faced and urged jurors to stand up to the powerful Republican.

"This case has been a long time coming," prosecutor Brenda Morris said. "This trial has exposed the truth about one of the longest-sitting senators."

Stevens argues that he paid every home improvement bill he received and says he had no obligation to report the toolbox, massage chair, gas grill, furniture rope lighting and other items because he didn't ask for them or didn't consider them gifts.

Defense attorney Brendan Sullivan urged jurors to question why Stevens, after a World War II record and 40 years of dedicated Senate service, would decide in his elderly years to become corrupt.

"Without sufficient evidence, the government comes here late in the night of a good man's life and tries to brand him a criminal," Sullivan said.