ATLANTA -- Jurors in the seven-week-long federal extortion trial of the husband of former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins finally began deliberations yesterday.

According to an official with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Judge Joseph Hood told jurors late on Tuesday afternoon that they could begin deliberations that evening or wait until Wednesday morning. They chose to begin yesterday, the official said.

Late yesterday afternoon, the judge excused the jury at its request and scheduled resumption of deliberations for this morning.

The court official also said that on Tuesday the judge excused two jurors -- Wanda Casey, a Frankfort machine operator, and Paula Guzman, a Shelbyville housewife -- after designating them as alternates. The jury now has nine women and three men, with four of the jurors employed by the state government, according to court documents.

In an interview with a Lexington television station, WLEX-TV, Casey said late Tuesday that she would have voted for conviction.

According to Scott Bolling, the station's tape editor, Casey said, "I would have had to vote guilty," in response to a reporter's question about what verdict she would have given. Asked whether she had any doubts about her conclusion, Casey added that prosecutors "got all the evidence I think we need," Bolling said.

Neither Casey nor Guzman could be reached for comment.

The trial centers on the awarding of state bond contracts by the Collins administration, which lasted from 1983 to 1987.

Bill Collins, the sole defendant in the case, is accused to using the contracts to force Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Securities and Cranston Securities Co. to make political contributions and invest in his horse partnership business. Donaldson Lufkin also had to pay for a $35,000 custombuilt piano presented to Martha Layne Collins in December 1984, the government charges.

The trial also includes a related charge of tax fraud.

If convicted of both counts, the Versailles, Ky., dentist faces prison time totaling 25 years and fines totaling $500,000.

In presenting the government's case, U.S. assistant district attorneys Jane Graham and John Compton argued that Bill Collins orchestrated the extortion campaign through a small group of business associates who also raised money for his wife's gubernatorial campaign.

A key part of the government's evidence came early in the trial with the testimony of Lester Thompson, who served as finance secretary to Martha Layne Collins during the first year of her administration. Thompson testified in exchange for immunity from prosecution in a number of tax evasion cases.

Thompson claimed that Bill Collins personally chose the two securities firm to manage bond work. No other witness has presented direct testimony implicating the governor's husband in an extortion plot.

The government also has presented a mass of expense vouchers, travel records, and correspondence to bolster its case.

Defense attorney Frank Haddad Jr. has sought to impeach Thompson's testimony through a series of witnesses who have denied any link between Bill Collins' horse partnership business and the awarding of state bond contracts.

"This case is about whether those horse deals were used as conduits to funnel money extorted by Bill Collins and his co-conspirators into his business and to effectively disguise the purpose for which these moneys were paid," Graham said in closing prosecution arguments presented Tuesday, according to a partial transcript provided by The Courier-Journal, a Louisville, Ky.-based newspaper.

"You don't have to break kneecaps with ball bats to commit this type of extortion," Graham said. "The message was clear -- you had to pay to play."

Haddad countered with a three-hour summation that attacked the credibility of Thompson's testimony and argued that the government presented no other direct evidence against his client, according to The Courier-Journal.

If the government had followed through with convictions on the charges against Thompson, he could have faced up to 36 years in prison and a fine up to $1.2 million, Haddad said.

Neither Graham, Compton, nor Haddad could be reached for comment yesterday.

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