White-Collar Crime

Drug Dealers Made Up Story of Witness Murder Conspiracy, Pro Se Defense Lawyer Tells Federal Jury

A well-known New Jersey criminal defense attorney accused of conspiring to murder a witness, both to help a client beat the rap and to protect his own alleged drug operation, told a jury in Newark today that the accusations against him are lies.

Drug dealers, willing to do anything to gain their freedom, made up the story that federal prosecutors are using to railroad him, attorney Paul Bergrin, 55, told the panel, in a presentation that ranged from emotional to loud and forceful, reports the Record.

A former state and federal prosecutor, Bergrin is defending himself, pro se, in a case brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, where he himself worked in the 1980s after leaving the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

“You can’t even imagine how difficult it is to sit there and listen to an opening argument which you know contains more fiction than you’ve heard your entire life,” Bergrin told the jury. “From the time I was accused, I have maintained my innocence, and I have never equivocated or hesitated because I am not guilty.”

Facing a potential life prison term if he is convicted in the racketeering case, he urged the panel to consider the evidence carefully and use common sense in evaluating it, calling the anonymous group of nine men and nine women (six are alternates) his last line of defense, the newspaper recounts.

“Look into the eyes of the witnesses, the mirrors of their souls,” he urged, “and determine if these people are telling the truth.”

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com (Sept. 2011): “Pro Se Defense Attorney to Be Shocked If He Leaves Authorized Courtroom Area During RICO Trial”

New York Times (reg. req.): “Representing Himself, Under Threat of Electric Shock”

Reuters: “Anonymous jury seated in murder trial of former prosecutor”

Star-Ledger (Oct. 2011): “Judge: No ankle bracelet for Newark lawyer Bergrin during upcoming murder trial”

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