Snipes finds all white jury
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
OCALA, Fla. - Attorneys for Wesley Snipes ticked off more than 70 potential character witnesses, including several celebrities, as jury selection began Monday in the actor's tax fraud and conspiracy trial.
Muhammad Ali, Spike Lee, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters, Woody Harrelson, Sylvester Stallone and Gus Van Sant were among the names mentioned.
Snipes, 45, and two co-defendants, both known tax protesters, are accused of conspiring to defraud the U.S. of millions of dollars. The actor allegedly first collaborated with Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas P. Rosile in 2000, then stopped filing tax returns.
Prosecutors say he fraudulently tried to retrieve $11 million in paid 1996 and 1997 taxes and directed his movie companies to stop withholding taxes from employees.
Attorneys for Snipes insist he was misled by unscrupulous advisers and didn't know he was doing anything wrong. They have tried, unsuccessfully, to separate the three defendants at trial.
Snipes, who starred in the "Blade" movies, faces as many as 16 years in prison if convicted, while Kahn and Rosile face 10 years.
His case has been delayed twice because of his commitments and the huge volume of paperwork in the case. Jury selection did not conclude Monday, as had been scheduled.
Snipes had tried unsuccessfully to get his trial moved from this central Florida town, arguing it was racist and he couldn't get a fair hearing. The pool of 37 potential jurors was predominantly white, and Senior Judge William Terrell Hodges moved through them slowly.
Most had heard of the case, but not extensively.
Before court, Snipes appeared at a vigil with the leaders of several predominantly black churches. The pastors followed Snipes to the courthouse and continued to watch when jury selection began.
Snipes did not speak after court, on the advice of counsel. But two attorneys from his legal team offered short statements, reminding potential jurors that Snipes went to high school in nearby Orlando and of "the dichotomy of the man known as Wesley Snipes."
"We want the jury to understand that Wesley Snipes is very much like everybody at the same time, and at the same time very different," said Daniel Meachum, a longtime Snipes adviser.
Lead attorney Robert Bernhoft said Snipes "begged, pleaded and prayed for answers from the IRS" but got no response before the indictment.
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