Jury deliberations in the seven week trial of Sean ”Puffy” Combs are expected to begin Tuesday, and seven men and five women will decide the legal fates of Combs and his codefendants, bodyguard Anthony ”Wolf” Jones and protégé Jamal ”Shyne” Barrow. The trio’s legal woes began with a December 1999 shooting inside a Manhattan nightclub — and an alleged attempt afterward to bribe witnesses, including Puffy’s chauffeur. If convicted, Combs and Jones — both charged with gun possession and bribery — face up to 15 years in prison, while Barrow could be in the slammer for up to 25 years on attempted murder and assault charges.
EW.com rounded up three legal eagles to discuss Puffy’s chances with the jury [while all three have been following the trial closely, none are involved with the case]: Roger Cossack, CNN legal analyst and cohost of ”Burden of Proof”; Ron Kuby, a New York based criminal defense attorney whose past clients include one of the World Trade Center bombers; and Wisconsin based lawyer Bridget Boyle, who with her father, Gerald Boyle, successfully defended former Green Bay Packer Mark Chmura from sexual assault charges.
Here’s what our panel had to say:
Kuby The prosecution has been very successful in building a solid case — making it seem like either Puffy’s the unluckiest person in the world, being bedeviled by a string of bad coincidences, or he’s guilty. It’s bad luck for Puffy that [prosecutor] Matthew Bogdanos is a crazed pit bull zealot. In defense circles, he’s referred to as a ”f—–g psycho,” who combines the zeal of a missionary with the restraint of a Delta force. I’ll give him this: He hates all defendants equally.
Boyle Puffy’s chauffeur seemed very convincing, but it’s his word against Puffy’s [about the bribery charge]. So a jury that trusts Puffy might believe the chauffeur is lying. But jurors tend to take bribing a witness very seriously. I think it’s easy for jurors to believe a wealthy and famous person is capable of that.
Boyle In celebrity cases, it seems the burden is actually on the defense to prove innocence, even though legally it’s the prosecution’s burden. It has been an uphill battle for this defense to persuade the jury.
Kuby I think it’s a very close case. Obviously, the fact that Puffy’s a handsome, well spoken, successful young celebrity helps him. In any case, Puffy Combs has the best defense money can buy, and [his attorneys] Ben Brafman and Johnnie Cochran have done their best to parade witnesses corroborating Puffy’s story in front of the jury.
JAMAL ”SHYNE” BARROW
Cossack The evidence is definitely stronger against Shyne than it is against Puffy. The problem that Shyne has is that he’s sitting next to a much bigger celebrity. If Combs gets a break, it may not help Shyne, because the jury is probably not going to feel sorry for both of them. Somebody may have to pay the price.
Kuby The best he can do is beat the attempted murder charge. Hopefully for him, his lawyer may have convinced the jury Shyne wasn’t firing at any specific person, just capping shots off in a flurry of mindless violence. Not the best defense. He’s definitely in big trouble.
PREDICTING THE VERDICT
Boyle I think the fact that Jennifer Lopez didn’t take the stand could hurt Puffy Combs. If you’re a juror, you have to sit there and wonder why someone who was right there didn’t testify. Why wasn’t she being called in to say: ”No, that never happened,” or ”I agree totally with Puffy and what he says.” Even though they broke up, she was still an important witness, especially to what went on in the car. It seems fishy, and jurors pick up on that.
Cossack I’ve given up predicting outcomes, because I’m always wrong. But here’s what I think: There’s no question that Sean Combs has a certain charisma, and what effect he has upon the jury we just don’t know yet. It’s clear that he is a popular person, especially with younger people. However, there is a lot of evidence, and it’s down to what set of testimony the jury believes — the witnesses who say Puffy didn’t do anything, or the ones who say he had the gun.
Kuby Puffy has a 50 – 50 chance of acquittal or conviction. Keep in mind that a 50 – 50 chance of prevailing sounds great if you’re buying a lottery ticket. On the other hand, if you have those same odds of dying on the operating table, it’s a very disconcerting figure.
SENTENCES, IF CONVICTED
Boyle Prosecuting attorneys usually want to throw the book at defendants who are public figures, to make an example of them. So I think if Puffy and the other men are convicted, they will be lucky to get anything less than the maximum punishment.
Kuby Knowing Bogdanos, he’ll probably ask for the maximum. The reality is, if Puffy Combs goes down, he’ll be sentenced to major time in state prison — not one day of anger management training.
Cossack This is a serious case. There were guns fired, people injured for apparently no good reason [except] a whole lot of bruised egos, quick trigger fingers, and male testosterone. If the jury convicts, they are all facing significant sentences.