Kilpatrick trial: Former city councilwoman Sharon McPhail expected to testify soon for defense

(WXYZ) - After 63 days of testimony, federal prosecutors should finally rest their case Thursday in the Kilpatrick corruption trial.

Federal prosecutors are still questioning the lead FBI agent in this case – and then the defense will start calling their own witnesses.

The 7 Action News team has learned that Sharon McPhail, a former city councilwoman, is expected to testify soon for the defense.

She and ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick  were often at odds, but McPhail later defended him and became his general counsel.

The fact that the defense will soon begin calling witnesses is a sign that this historic case is finally winding down.

The jury has been listening to government witnesses for five months in the Kilpatrick corruption case. Some witnesses have delivered damaging testimony – while others have withered under cross-examination. Federal prosecutors are using an experienced FBI agent to deliver their parting shots to the jury. 

Special Agent Robert Beeckman has spearheaded the massive investigation into Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, and the former mayor's friend, Bobby Ferguson – who are all accused of running a criminal enterprise out of city hall.

"By calling the agents, the government has made sure that at least there won't be any major surprises," said former federal prosecutor Peter Henning. Henning says using Agent Beeckman to show the jury dozens of text messages to sum up the racketeering case can be very effective.

"You don't want to end on a down note – you would prefer to end on an up note, and at least with the agents – you can be sure they will be well-prepared and understand the case," said Henning.

Once the government rests, the defense attorneys will start calling their witnesses.

"You don't know exactly what the defense is going to do – because the government has the burden of proof on every element," said Henning.

Henning says the defense has to be cautious about calling character witnesses – which could open them up to questions about the former mayor's perjury conviction in state court.

"The defense has to be very careful that if they raise the character of the different defendants that this is a good person. That will also open that witness up to being cross examined by the prosecutors with perhaps particular instances of dishonesty," said Henning.

Henning also says that because the prosecutors have the burden, the defense may not call many witnesses to try to show the jury the feds didn't prove their case.

"We just want to put on enough to say to you – see all the holes in the government case?  We're going to poke a couple of additional ones, I would be surprised if it lasted much more than a week," said Henning.

As for the defense, I have learned Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer will go first with the others to follow.  And while witnesses are crucial in a case like this – don't forget federal prosecutors have also introduced hundreds of documents to the jury.

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