Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis avoided the strategic disadvantage of having to preview her case against former President Donald Trump when two co-defendants accepted last-minute plea deals ahead of their scheduled trial this week, legal experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, the two co-defendants in Trump’s Georgia 2020 election case who requested speedy trials that were scheduled to start Monday, accepted plea deals on Thursday and Friday, respectively, halting a trial that would have allowed Trump’s defense team to see some of Willis’ evidence ahead of time. For Willis, who pushed hard to get all defendants tried on the same date, plea deals mean she won’t be forced to provide a “free look” next week at how she intends to try the case, legal experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“She really wanted this upcoming trial in October to not happen because she did not want to reveal her playbook, so to speak, to the primary defendants: Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and the others,” Georgia-based criminal defense attorney and legal analyst Philip Holloway told the DCNF.
“If there had been a trial of Kenneth Chesebro, it would have been the first time any prosecutor in the multiple cases against Trump has had to prove their case, rather than making allegations in an indictment,” Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson told the DCNF. “Such a trial would have signaled to the public how strong the evidence was against Trump, and also would have given the Trump defense a chance to preview the prosecution’s case against him.”
Now, Willis won’t be forced to lay her cards on the table quite so soon.
While the prosecution’s willingness to accept plea deals may reflect they have been “overcharging defendants,” Jacobson said they are keeping their eyes on the “real target” — the former president.
Along with allowing Willis to keep evidence under wraps, plea deals have also enabled prosecutors to secure witnesses who could be beneficial to the case, particularly with Sidney Powell. Part of the conditions for each of the three deals include testifying honestly at other co-defendants trials.
“There’s no question that she was in meetings and several of them with other people who have been charged,” John Malcolm, vice president for the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government and former deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Criminal Division, told the DCNF. “She is going to be able to testify about what happened at some of those meetings.”
Malcolm said that Powell and Scott Hall, a bail bond owner who was the first to take a plea deal, got “very, very favorable agreements,” pleading only to misdemeanors. After probation is over, both of their misdemeanors will be “wiped off of the books,” Malcolm said.
Chesebro, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to a felony. Holloway said it’s likely a decision “he made based on practicality.”
“In the event of a conviction, he could easily have spent the rest of his life in prison,” Holloway told the DCNF, noting other defense teams are “watching this very carefully.”
“Some of them are disappointed that these individuals have entered the plea because I think a lot of the defense lawyers believe that these charges can be beat,” he said, adding that Willis has been “very busy” contacting other co-defendant’s defense teams to offer plea deals over the past few weeks.
“Many of these defendants are people who don’t have a lot of resources,” Holloway said. “They might otherwise prefer to have their day in court, but they just can’t afford to keep paying lawyers for this type of very complicated and very expensive litigation.”
Willis did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
Katelynn Richardson on October 21, 2023