By Carl Sears, NBC News producer
The verdict came swiftly, unexpectedly like an ice shelf cracking in the remote Arctic Circle. The jury foreman's voice: "guilty" came crashing down on Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, 7 times for 7 counts. The longest-serving Republican Senator has been unanimously convicted in his 6-week federal corruption trial. Stevens now found guilty of lying about $250,000 of gifts and renovations on his Alaska home that he was required to report on Senate financial disclosure forms from 2000-2006.
The conviction appears to put Stevens 40-year Senate tenure in grave jeopardy in next week's election. Motions for sentencing will be heard on February 25th. It all started with a little rustic cabin in the Alaska woods where Stevens said he liked to chop wood and think. But in the new millennium, the cabin was transformed into a handsome ski lodge with wrap around decks, extra bedrooms, Jacuzzi, snow-melt system, steel stairs, and garage. It was the home many Americans dream for where the Stevens could accommodate family and friends in style. Sadly, the end of the road for Stevens could be 'the Big House.' He is facing a maximum of 35 years in prison though whether he is sentenced to jail time remains to be seen.
Upon hearing the conviction, Stevens seemed grim but passive. One of his attorneys put her hand on his shoulder. When he stood to leave, Stevens flipped his hearing-assist headset across the defense table as if he was thinking 'enough of this.' Stevens and his attorneys threaded a media gauntlet outside the courthouse as they climbed into a white van without commenting.
Stevens at age 84 is an Alaska icon, but his conviction in the twilight of his career will likely cast a shadow over his legacy in the land of the midnight sun. The defense had argued that the Stevens paid every bill they got, and had done nothing wrong. The prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Stevens 'knowingly and willfully' accepted free gifts and remodeling work that he concealed from the Senate on disclosure forms. The trial had more twists than a wine opener corkscrew, but no doubt left a bitter taste for Stevens, and it's hard to cheer an 84-year-old powerful man's fall from grace.