Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

Opening Salvos

Claus von Bulow in court
Claus von Bülow in
court

The defense wanted to keep anything Richard Kuh and his team had turned up out of the trial, as well as medical information that would invade Sunny's privacy. The latter motion was almost a throwaway. In order to show there was a crime, Sunny's medical condition would have to be discussed. Since she was comatose and unable to give her consent, Needham rejected the defense motion on the medical history.

The "private prosecution" of von Bülow was another matter. In one exchange, Fahringer attempted to show that Kuh was acting on behalf of the state so the rules of constitutional protection should apply.

Explaining why he had stayed involved even after civil authorities from Rhode Island had taken the case, Kuh said "there was some concern whether Rhode Island would have the budget for a prolonged New York investigation."

"So you were helping the Rhode Island police?" Fahringer asked.

"Helping the cause of justice," Kuh shot back.

As for excluding von Bülow's statement to Reise, the defense attempted to show that von Bülow considered himself in custody at Clarendon Court that night and that, as such, his right against self-incrimination was violated when he was questioned without his attorney. The central question was whether von Bülow felt "free to leave" his own home while the police were present.

Attorney Stephen Famigliette addressing the jury (CORBIS)
Attorney Stephen Famigliette addressing
the jury (CORBIS)

Needham rejected all defense motions. Kuh was not an agent of the state, he ruled, and von Bülow's statements would remain in evidence because he was well aware of his rights. Also, Sunny's medical history was necessary to prosecute the case. A statute designed to protect victims, Needham said, could not be twisted to protect the accused.

Nearly a month had gone by before jurors heard any testimony in the trial of Claus von Bülow. They had toured Clarendon Court and seen the closet where Alexander would tell them he found the black bag. Jurors saw the bathroom where Sunny was discovered comatose and the bedroom where she lay unconscious while Claus rested next to her.

Just two witnesses in the trial of Claus von Bülow really mattered to the jurors. They sat through weeks of testimony about hypoglycemia and irrevocable trusts and saw glimpses of the life of the rich and famous, but when it came time to make up their minds, it was the testimony of Alexander von Auersperg and Maria Schrallhammer that convicted von Bülow.

Saving the best witnesses for last makes for good television drama, but a competent prosecutor knows that a juror's mind is open only as long as his butt is comfortable in the jury box chair, so Famiglietti put his most important witnesses on the stand shortly after he finished his opening remarks.

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