Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

The Defense's Case

The defense's first witness was the locksmith from Providence, Marshall Salzman, who not only said he had been suspicious of the two men who hired him for the job in Newport, but that Eddie Lambert had come from the infamous closet saying, "It's not here."

Butler Robert Biastre who corroborated Claus' contention that the closet Salzman opened had contained, among other things, a shotgun. Claus told police he had relocked the closet after Miranda opened it because he was afraid they would be interested in the unlicensed gun. He was apparently unaware that shotguns do not have to be licensed in Rhode Island. Biastre also testified that he served perhaps a dozen alcoholic drinks to Sunny in the course of a year, and that Claus had never given him any indication that he wanted to harm his wife.

The biggest blight on the defense's already lackluster case was Joy O'Neill. O'Neill was a 40ish woman who had been an instructor at an exercise studio frequented by some of New York's wealthiest residents. A former ballerina, Joy testified that she had been Sunny's personal trainer for more than five years, exercising with the socialite five days a week. The two women were like sisters, O'Neill said.

O'Neill said Sunny had talked to her about injecting insulin for weight loss. The two women had been exercising, and O'Neill was complaining about her potbelly. Sunny suggested a shot of insulin to burn up the sugar from Joy's nightly glass of wine.

O'Neill was a high-strung witness who was ill prepared for her time on the stand. She didn't know when to stop answering a question, often falling prey to the old attorney trick of pausing before asking a follow-up. In the uncomfortable pause, the witness often feels compelled to expand on their answer and sometimes reveals an unbidden fact.

A rebuttal witness called a few days later by the prosecution utterly destroyed O'Neill's credibility by producing the exercise studio's records showing she had given instruction to Sunny only a handful of times over the years. The rebuttal witness said that records indicated Sunny visited the studio 210 times in 1978 and 1979 and not once had O'Neill instructed her.

Just two witnesses testified — without corroboration — that Sunny's mental state was anything but normal. One, a hospital technician, said he was drawing blood from her after the 1979 coma when Sunny admitted she had attempted suicide. The technician waited until the last minute, even after Reise had canvassed the hospital looking for witnesses, to admit his conversation with Sunny. The second witness was a psychiatrist who spent 20 minutes with Sunny as she recovered from her first coma. She denied to him being suicidal, but said "she often wished she were dead." Sunny also admitted not being intimate with Claus for the previous five years.

Having called 12 witnesses in four days, the defense rested its case, but had utterly failed to counter the tremendous damage done by Alexander, Maria and the parade of medical witnesses brought forth by the state.

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