Three-Year Anniversary of Von Bulow Conviction Saturday
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Three years ago Saturday, a jury found that socialite Claus von Bulow, driven by greed and love, twice tried to kill his heiress wife with insulin injections, leaving her in a coma.
Now, as new teams of lawyers prepare for a retrial, prosecutors are fighting for access to secretly taped conversations, allegedly of von Bulow, that were obtained by CBS News and could add yet another twist to the complex case.
The 1981 trial gave the nation a rare, intimate look at the world of Newport’s super-rich - a life of mansions, lavish parties and jet-setters.
Von Bulow’s stepchildren, an Austrian prince and princess, accused the 58- year-old Danish-born socialite of plunging their mother, Martha ″Sunny″ von Bulow, 53, into an irreversible coma out of desire for part of her $75 million estate and his mistress, actress Alexandra Isles.
The jury came to the same conclusion, but in April 1984 the state Supreme Court overturned von Bulow’s conviction on grounds his constitutional rights were violated.
The ruling bars from evidence state police tests on drugs found in a black bag in von Bulow’s closet, tests the high court said were performed without a needed search warrant. However, private laboratory tests performed on much of the black-bag evidence before police became involved remains admissible, including a needle the prosecution alleges was tainted with insulin.
Much of the prosecution’s case in the second trial, which is scheduled to begin April 8 in Superior Court here, will revolve around its key witnesses in the first trial.
Von Bulow’s stepson, Prince Alexander von Auersperg, and Mrs. von Bulow’s maid, Maria Schrallhammer, are expected to recount how they became suspicious after Mrs. von Bulow, a diabetic, slipped into a coma from which she recovered during the 1979 Christmas season at the family’s opulent Newport estate.
A year later, Mrs. von Bulow was found sprawled on a bathroom floor in the mansion, in a coma from which doctors say she will never emerge.
The defense is expected to counter with new medical testimony that Mrs. von Bulow caused her own injuries by indulging in sweets, alcohol and drugs. The defense also claims to have evidence that there was no insulin on the needle from the black bag.
Other new defense evidence includes affidavits that attempt to portray Mrs. von Bulow as self-destructive and antisocial, including a statement from the late author Truman Capote claiming she taught him to inject himself with drugs.
Two new areas could have a major effect on the second trial.
One is tape-recorded conversations from David Marriott, 26, who signed a defense affidavit during von Bulow’s appeal saying he delivered drugs, needles and syringes to Mrs. von Bulow more than a year before her first coma.
Marriott now claims von Bulow forced him to write the affidavit and that he has tapes of conversations that incriminate von Bulow in unspecified crimes.
Marriott was interviewed by the CBS News program ″60 Minutes″ about the tapes, and a source close to the case says the network has copies.
Prosecutors have subpoenaed Marriott and CBS for the tapes. But Marriott vows to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and CBS is fighting the request in a New York court.
Defense attorney Alan Dershowitz dismisses Marriott as a flip-flopping witness who does not pose a threat to the defense.But Dershowitz said another development will help von Bulow: the release of materials gathered by Richard Kuh, who was hired by von Bulow’s stepchildren to investigate their mother’s death.
The first trial judge’s refusal to let the defense see Kuh’s evidence was cited in the Supreme Court’s overturning of the original verdict.