Judge Rejects Bid to Show ‘Godfather’ Clip at Roger Stone Trial
WASHINGTON (CN) — Hold the popcorn. A federal judge on Monday rejected a request from the Justice Department to screen a clip from “The Godfather Part II” at next month’s trial of longtime Trump associate Roger Stone.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will allow the government to introduce a transcript of the clip that federal prosecutors argue is key for the jury to grasp alleged witness tampering by Stone.
“The government will not be permitted to introduce the clip itself in its case in chief because the prejudicial effect of the videotape, which includes a number of extraneous matters, outweighs its probative value,” Jackson wrote in a docket order Monday.
The judge indicated she would entertain a renewed request during trial proceedings, after the cross-examination of radio host Randy Credico – a witness in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election – or after Stone takes the witness stand.
Last month, Jackson voiced concern that the clip may infuse unnecessary drama into court proceedings.
Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges he obstructed the investigation by Congress into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, engaged in witness tampering and lied to Congress.
Federal prosecutors, in a notice filed last week, said a written description of the clip makes for a poor substitute to seeing the scene unfold on screen and added they have no intention of arguing that Stone is an organized crime leader.
“That scene played a direct part in the very obstructive acts charged in this case. The question is not just how [Credico] interpreted Stone’s references to the scene, but what Stone intended by them,” the government notice states.
Last month, Jackson dismissed arguments from Stone’s attorney that jurors may wrongly associate him with the mafia protagonist Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino.
The scene federal prosecutors hoped to screen for jurors is tied to repeated references by Stone to the character Frank Pentangeli, in text messages and emails sent to Credico.
In the scene, Pentangeli appears to give witness testimony before a congressional committee investigating Corleone.
When the mafia boss enters the room, Pentangeli suddenly claims he fabricated his prior testimony.
Asked about Corleone’s connections to organized crime, Pentangeli answers: “I don’t know nothing about that. Oh—I was in the olive oil business with his father but that was a long time ago.”
Jurors will only grasp the coded language in Stone’s messages to Credico, the government argues, if they can see the same images from the film the communications invoked.
“Playing the scene itself also avoids a witness—or witnesses—having to characterize aspects of the scene, including dialogue, expressions, actions, and camera work, that convey meaning,” the government notice further states.
But in court documents filed in August, Stone’s lawyers said the government “errs on the side of willful ignorance” in arguing that the screening would not prejudice or confuse the jury.
“Once the door is opened with a movie clip, which no doubt will accompany an explanation of why it is being played, the trial detours to a Mafia trial and Stone’s connection to it, with all of its history and folklore,” the defense brief states.
Stone’s trial is set to begin Nov. 5 and is expected to last about two weeks.