Stanford trial delayed over mental health fears

David Usborne
Saturday 08 January 2011 01:00
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The trial of the brash cricket lover and former financier Allen Stanford, which was scheduled to begin this month, has been delayed indefinitely by a Texas judge in the wake of fresh and disturbing questions about the deterioration of Stanford's mental and physical health in the 18 months he has already spent behind bars.

Psychiatrists for both the defence and the prosecution attested to the difficulties faced by Mr Stanford, which may be making it impossible for him to prepare for trial or even eventually to appear in court. They agreed that he had become addicted to an anti-anxiety medicine that may have triggered fits of delirium. He may also have suffered brain damage during a fight with another inmate in June 2009.

"He is unable to focus, he's unable to keep a train of thought," said Victor Scarano, a psychiatrist for the defence who testified before District Judge David Hittner in Houston on Thursday. For the prosecution, Steven Rosenblatt, who is also a psychologist, acknowledged that Stanford was suffering problems. "I believe he was suffering delirium from medication that was prescribed in excess," he said.

The possible brain damage came after a fight triggered by an argument about the use of a telephone in the prison. After the fight, which left him unconscious, Stanford was briefly hospitalised with concussion and a broken nose. While incarcerated awaiting trial, he has also suffered an aneurism in one of his legs and has been fighting depression, which led to the anti-anxiety pills being prescribed.

Stanford faces 21 charges for overseeing an alleged Ponzi scheme perpetrated through his own Stanford International Bank based in Antigua in the Caribbean. Valued at $7bn (£4.5bn), the scheme was described by prosecutors as the second biggest of its kind after that of Bernie Madoff. Stanford, 60, insists he is innocent and blames his former chief financial officer, James Davis, for any crimes committed at the bank. Davis has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government.

Since his arrest, Stanford has traded his old life of glamour, girlfriends and social status – he most famously flew a see-through chest containing £20m in cash to Lords by helicopter as prize money for the Twenty20 Cricket he sponsored – for humiliation. He has gone through five legal teams, each of which failed to persuade Judge Hittner to release him on bail pending trial. Worse, his insurer, Lloyd's of London, has now cut off all funding for future defence efforts.

After hearing testimony this week, Judge Hittner agreed that the start of his trial should be delayed pending further tests to determine his state of health. He was not specific about the length of delay, rejecting a defence request that it be put off for two years.

Not everyone in the courtroom agreed that a postponement was required. Two prison workers told the judge they saw an inmate who was quite coherent day to day while a US prosecutor, Gregg Costa, suggested that the defendant may have been faking episodes of delirium.

Defence lawyers have repeatedly tried to persuade Judge Hittner to let the Texan native out of prison until the trial, saying his ailments also included an ulcer that has led to loss of weight, and the absence of all sensation on one side of his face.

Prosecutors have argued that the international connections enjoyed by Stanford meant there was an unacceptable risk of flight, an opinion that so far Judge Hittner has endorsed.

Stanford, who was once thought to have a personal fortune worth $2bn, now faces additional peril since being denied legal funds. He was declared an "indigent defendant" by the judge last year, and is now in the hands of a court-appointed defence team.

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