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Defense testimony starts in corruption trial of Virginia ex-governor, wife

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - The defense in the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, began on Monday with testimony intended to show the couple's marriage was so broken they could not have conspired to illegally take gifts and loans.

Janet Kelly, secretary of the commonwealth in McDonnell’s cabinet, said the former first lady was known for being a difficult person. Kelly also said she believed the governor's wife "was yelling at him at night."

“She didn’t handle stress well,” Kelly testified in U.S. district court. ”She would freak out on little things and take it out on other people when she was upset.”

Referring to a letter of complaint from the staff at governor’s mansion about the former first lady’s treatment of them, Kelly said she came to believe that Maureen McDonnell was “pathologically incapable of accepting responsibility.”

The McDonnells face a 14-count indictment alleging they took gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams Sr., the head of dietary supplement company Star Scientific, in exchange for promoting his main product, anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

Defense attorneys have said the McDonnells' marriage was so frayed that they could not have conspired with Williams to promote his company. One of Maureen McDonnell's attorneys has said she had a "crush" on Williams.

The defense began laying out its evidence after almost three weeks of testimony for the prosecution. Robert McDonnell, a Republican, is expected to take the witness stand at some point.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent last week testified that the couple accepted gifts and loans worth more than $177,000 for promoting Williams' product. Previous government accounts had put the value at more than $165,000.

Defense attorneys have submitted a list of 121 potential witnesses, more than twice the number for the prosecution.

McDonnell's four-year term ended in January. If the McDonnells are convicted, each could face a prison sentence of 20 years and hefty fines.

(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Ian Simpson and Eric Beech)

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