Trial of Whitewater’s Hale Delayed
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Whitewater figure David Hale checked himself into a hospital today complaining of chest pains, causing a delay in his trial on state charges of lying to insurance regulators.
With opening statements set for this morning, Hale went to Baptist Memorial Hospital rather than Pulaski County Circuit Court. Judge David Bogard announced the delay in his chambers.
``I can’t go to trial with the defendant having a legitimate complaint in a hospital,″ Bogard said. ``We can’t proceed with the trial until they run the tests.″
Prosecutors were visibly shaken. One of their witnesses traveled from Tanzania to testify and was to return Saturday. Lawyers discussed the possibility of videotaping his testimony in Hale’s hospital room.
Bogard had initially rescheduled the trial for next Tuesday, then pushed it back to April 30 because another prosecution witness had to be in Orlando, Fla., for an insurance conference early next week.
Hale, the chief Whitewater witness in the 1996 trial of James and Susan McDougal and then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, was charged in state court with lying to insurance regulators about the solvency of a burial insurance company the state says he owned.
Tests on Hale were being conducted at the hospital after Hale complained of chest pains, shortness of breath, faintness and a numb arm, defense lawyer David Bowden said.
Bogard said doctors would need 24 to 48 hours to determine if Hale had a legitimate complaint about his health.
``It is a very unstable, critical condition,″ defense attorney Tona DeMers said. ``He could conceivably die instantly.″
Hale most recently has been in the news because of allegations he was paid through a conservative publisher while cooperating with Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Hale said Wednesday ``that never happened.″
The judge told jurors that there is no connection between the state case and Whitewater, although Hale claims the state charge is retribution for his Whitewater help.
``The only thing it can be is politics,″ Hale said during a break in jury selection Wednesday.
Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley called such claims ``speculation and innuendo.″
``I’m sorry he feels that way but he just needs to hush up and go on,″ Jegley said.
Hale contends that immunity granted in a plea agreement with federal Whitewater prosecutors should have shielded him from state prosecution. But he was turned down Tuesday by both U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Hale was charged in July 1996 with filing a false or misleading statement with the state insurance department about a burial-insurance company the state says he owned.
The charge came just months after Hale testified in a Whitewater trial against then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Clinton’s former business partners, James and Susan McDougal. All three were convicted.
Bogard barred attempts by Bowden to question potential jurors about their knowledge of Hale’s Whitewater role.
``If you start asking this jury if they know Mr. Hale was convicted of a crime, starting to go into detail about Mr. Hale taints this jury pool,″ Bogard said.
In the Whitewater investigation, Hale pleaded guilty in 1994 to two federal felony fraud counts and was sentenced to 28 months in prison, which he served. He remains under three years’ probation, which requires him to get permission to leave the state.
If convicted of the state charge, Hale’s prison sentence could be enhanced because of his earlier federal guilty plea. While he normally would have faced three years in prison, he now faces up to eight years in prison, Jegley said. He also could be fined up to $5,000.