Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

Second Try

Thomas Puccio
Thomas Puccio

Although the prosecution's case in the second trial would be similar to that used in the first, the defense was going to try a different approach. In early April 1985, a little more than three years after he was convicted of trying to murder Sunny, Claus went on trial again. This time, Sunny went on trial with him.

While Dershowitz served as a consultant to the defense team, von Bülow hired Thomas Puccio, a former federal prosecutor, to lead the team. Puccio had previously prosecuted several members of Congress ensnared in the FBI's Abscam bribery sting operation.

Famiglietti had moved on to private practice by 1985, so assistant attorneys general Henry Gemma Jr. and Marc DeSisto represented the state.

Maria Schrallhammer was once again the star of the prosecution's case. She gave much of the same testimony she delivered in the first trial, except that Puccio, aided by Kuh's notes, was able to point out that Maria had not mentioned seeing insulin in the black bag in her first interview with the private prosecutor.

Right off the bat, Puccio set the tone for how he was going to cross-examine the 63-year-old maid: "It's a fact, isn't it, that in the past, you've lied under oath to protect Mrs. von Bülow?" he asked, referring to Maria's varied responses to questions about Sunny's thoughts on divorce.

Maria admitted that she had given different answers, but said it was out of loyalty to her mistress.

Why didn't she tell Kuh during their first interview that she had seen insulin or a hypodermic needle in the black bag around Thanksgiving of 1980?

"Insulin was not significant to me, not in Mrs. von Bülow's case, because she was not a diabetic," the maid replied.

Judge Corrine Grande
Judge Corrine Grande

After Maria, Alexander von Auersperg took the stand.

This time, armed with Kuh's notes, Puccio was able to paint Alexander in a different light. On Jan. 27, 1981, barely a month after Sunny lapsed into her second, irreversible coma, Ala and Alexander met with their maternal grandparents and Kuh and discussed "the desire on the part of some of the people present to pay [Claus] some money to have him renounce any interest in" Sunny's estate, according to Kuh's record of the meeting.

That discussion took place after Alexander and Eddie found the black bag. By getting Alexander to admit the family had talked about paying off von Bülow, it made him look greedy to the jury.

And so it went for 24 days of testimony. Every time the prosecution put forward a witness to testify that insulin put Sunny in the coma, or that Claus injected her, the defense was right there to cross-examine the experts aggressively and relentlessly. This go around, the defense matched the prosecution punch for punch and didn't let anything go without a fight.

The many medical experts who all had testified that exogenous insulin was likely the cause of Sunny's coma were prevented by defense objections from voicing their opinions, or were forced to water down their comments.

Dr. George F. Cahill, for example, testified unequivocally in the first trial that, based on "a reasonable degree of medical certainty," Sunny's two comas were caused by injections of insulin. This time however, Puccio got Cahill to admit that there was a ten percent chance that the second, irreversible coma that Sunny suffered might have been caused by something other than insulin.

Judge Corrine Grande, on the last day of the prosecution's case, issued the coup de grace when she excluded without comment the testimony of Sunny's banker, Morris Gurley. Gone was the money motive, because, in the words of John Sheehan, "the prejudicial effect it might have on the jurors far outweighed any probative value it might have."

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