Opening statements in Kilpatrick corruption trial: First impressions count

DETRIOT (WXYZ) - On Friday, the lawyers on both sides of the Kilpatrick Corruption Case will have their first real chance to capture the jury.

Opening statements will be our first real glimpse at how this historic case will unfold: a preview of what's to come in a trial that could send Detroit's former mayor to prison for decades.

Kwame Kilpatrick may still hold court with supporters on the streets of Detroit, but inside the courtroom, the lawyers are the ones who are about to take center stage.

Opening statements in the biggest corruption trial in Detroit history start Friday morning.

The feds have charged the former Detroit mayor, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, his long-time friend Bobby Ferguson, and ex-Detroit Water Department Chief Victor Mercado with racketeering and conspiracy – and they're accused of running a criminal enterprise out of city hall.

Up first:  the government. 

Assistant U. S. Attorney Mark Chutkow will present opening statements – and legal experts say he will need to preview the case for the jury.

"The opening statement is the chance to frame the case, and for the government, the opening statement is particularly important in a complex case like this, where you're going to need to lay out your themes, and tell the jurors, here's what you're going to see," Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning told 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo. Henning is a former federal prosecutor.  Henning says the feds likely have had their openings prepared for some time – since that initial presentation to the jury will have to flow with the structure of their entire case.

"The key is going to be simplifying it… If you make it too much of a 1000 piece puzzle, the government runs the risk that they're just going to lose the jury's attention," said Henning.

Chutkow will have about an hour to outline the case to the jury.  On the defense side – the jury will hear four different opening statements, one for each man on trial.

"The defense doesn't want to go into too much detail because they need to see how the government's case is going to play out," said Henning.

Legal experts tell 7 Action News, in their opening statements, the defense attorneys will really try to humanize their clients to the jury – especially because so many people have perceptions of Kilpatrick and Ferguson already.

"These are real people whose lives are on the line," said Henning.

The government will be rolling their case out in chapters with three main themes: extortion, bribery and fraud.

The defense will suggest in their opening statements that there's more to the story than what the feds are telling them.

In the end, the jury will watch, listen, and decide.

"How are they going to view this drama playing out in front of them?  Cause it really is a drama that you've got different players, playing their role, and the jurors are the ultimate arbiters," said Henning.

First impressions count – and opening statements are the first real chance for the lawyers to make that real connection with the whole jury.  It all starts at Friday morning, and 7 Action News will have complete right here on www.wxyz.com , including live blogging from the federal courthouse.

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