BIRMINGHAM, Ala., August 23, 2006 -- High-profile Dothan, Alabama attorney Jim Parkman sat down with me in his office in Birmingham to update wsfa.com readers on the Stefan Eriksson or "Ferrari Guy" case. Parkman's on the case through his association with the Cochran Firm.
You may remember in February of this year the Swedish businessman allegedly plowed a Ferrari Enzo into a utility pole in Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway. Eriksson was able to walk away from the crash, in which he was allegedly traveling more than 160 mph, with only a cut lip. California prosecutors are trying Eriksson on embezzlement, grand theft, DUI and gun possession charges. They say Eriksson brought the vehicles, with a total value of around $3.8 million, into the country without permission from financial institutions in the United Kingdom.
On Friday, August 18, 2006, a hearing was held in Los Angeles during which the judge decided Eriksson would get two trials - one on the gun charges and another on the other charges.
Parkman says the defense team had filed five motions with the court dealing with different issues; for example, motions to suppress with regard to the search of the house. Motions concerning Eriksson's prior convictions in Sweden, which Parkman says are very interesting, and motions dealing with dismissal of the indictment.
The lawyer best-known for leading the team that won exoneration for former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in a multi-billion dollar accounting fraud case in Birmingham, says he didn't really think they were going to get the indictment dismissed but he felt they had to file the motion "based on some of the testimony presented at the preliminary hearing dealing with the fact there's an indication maybe they (the automobiles) really weren't stolen."
The high energy counselor says it "was more of a civil proceeding over in England than it was anything else, a breach of contract." In their Motion for Severance, the defense says at least one "theory of defenses" to Counts 1-6 "will hinge upon the jury's belief that Eriksson's intent was not to defraud the alleged victims."
The one motion they ended up getting accepted by the judge was a motion to sever the counts out - "one of them being the gun charge."
In their Motion for Severance, the defense argued the "firearm is not alleged to have been used during the commission of any Grand Theft Auto Embezzlement or Driving Under the Influence charge. Count 7 proceeds to name nine separate and distinct alleged felonies along with their conviction date and location. All of these alleged felonies took place over twelve years ago in Stockholm, Sweden..."
Attorney Parkman says getting the gun charge separated from the other charges was "extremely important. I think the judge did a great job of understanding what the issues were. In fact he had a great understanding before we even got there and that kind of surprised me."
Parkman explains why the separation was that important:
"If the gun charge stays with the others, then the prior convictions if they stand, which they are right now, that are coming in from Sweden are all going to come into evidence and none of them relate to any thefts or anything. They relate to a variety of different types of charges - drug charges, assault, stuff like this. So if they came in just to prove that he had a prior conviction for purposes of...having possession of a firearm supposedly in the house, then what that does is that no matter how you tell the jury don't take it into consideration, they now know a background about the client, Mr. Eriksson, before we even get into any of the facts of the case. And so, what that does is that really prejudices, in my opinion, Mr. Eriksson going into a trial with the other counts as they really don't relate to the other counts involved."
Parkman says he thinks the judge saw the problem and thinks the judge did a great job sorting through things and moving the gun charges to a separate trial.
The colorful lawyer says he was proud of what the defense team accomplished. "At the trial itself, the hearing itself, I asked our California lawyer Alec Rose to handle the major part of this since he is a California lawyer and knew a little more of the protocol about the situation. William White handled the motion for severance which he's told me every day since we've been back that he's the only one to win anything out there. But he did an excellent job. I was very pleased with what William did and did get that part of it granted."
He says the issue of the prior convictions from Sweden are very important because "as was pointed out both by the state and the defense this has never been decided before."
Parkman says, "In Sweden when you go to court, you don't have an indictment. You don't have a grand jury, you don't have a trial by jury in any respect. So what we're saying is that Constitutionally it's defective for allowing those (prior convictions) to be able to be offered into evidence because it violates the basic rights of equal protection and due process that we have in our country and that they don't meet those standards and therefore they're not really prior convictions as it relates to due process and equal protection rights that we have and therefore shouldn't be in."
The judge denied the motion that would have kept those prior convictions out, but Parkman says he had a feeling that might happen because it also attacks the California statute that says that any felony conviction can come in as a prior. He says the defense had to lay the groundwork to preserve the issue for appeal at some time.
The next step in the case is another hearing in mid-September to see where both sides are at and to see if they are ready to proceed on to trial. He says at that time both sides will better be able to see how witnesses are falling into line and if they're even going to be able to get some witnesses. He says Eriksson's defense team has several witnesses they are trying to make sure they can obtain, some from Europe.
Parkman says Stefan Eriksson is doing "pretty good" under the circumstances and that his client was well in agreement, as expressed in open court, with not pushing forward with the July 31 trial date but letting the case continue and giving his attorneys time for the motions and briefs to be written and in and getting everything worked out with the witnesses.
Parkman says right now the defense "is just trying to get a grasp on where we are in the Eriksson case and seeing what we do about the witnesses and getting ready because it's going to be a great case. It's going to be real interesting."
He says he has been able to work well with prosecutors in California. He says the opposing team have just been "excellent with regards to providing us with everything as far as we know...they've been very good about that. We've been exchanging information all along and you know we've talked to them like on these issues dealing with the prior convictions and trying to figure out if they found any cases that would indicate where this has been taken up or not and so it's been a mutual respect type situation between the defense and prosecutors."
As for the wrecked Ferrari, the judge has sent what's left of the vehicle as well as two other cars previously in Eriksson's possession back to the U. K. Parkman says what he was concerned about, and what was argued in open court, was "the fact that we had put hundreds of thousands of dollars into this car ourself. We had a great deal of equity in these vehicles. So now we're concerned about how we get our equity back. Are the banks just going to sell it for what's owed, which would be a steal for anybody or are they really going to make an effort to sell them at fair market value which then we'd be entitled to some equity back."
The affable attorney says the cars being returned to banks in the U. K. didn't cause concern because the prosecutors let the defense see all of the automobiles, including the wrecked Ferrari, thus they got to see the evidence before it was shipped back across the ocean. He says they got to thoroughly look and examine some things it was important for the defense to look at in regards to evidence and they also took pictures.
When asked about whether or not he got to make an appearance before the media in L. A. on this trip, Mr. Parkman told me - "Yes and No."
As he started laughing he says, "Yes and no, let me kind of explain this to you. That's terrible thing for a lawyer to say, yes and no, but yes and no."
According to Parkman, here's what happened:
"Once the hearing was over with, I went back in the back, because you know Mr. Eriksson is held in custody. So I went back to talk to him about what happened, where we're headed from there and some other things dealing with some of the property that's been seized and we needed to talk about.
So while I was back there, Alec and William handled the press, which you know is fine with me. I got to stay out of it. So when I came out it was basically over with by that time and you know I asked William how he did and of course he told me he was great and that they like him more than they like me, so I think that worked out well for Alec and William at the time of the hearing. I think they did a good job."
Parkman says his Emmy-award winning performance is going to have to wait. He says he did get to have a good conversation with a reporter from the Malibu Surfside News who told him there was a lot of interest in the city where the wreck occurred.
He says about the only thing he knew about Malibu prior to going out there was that "I can't afford to live there." He says interest in the Ferrari case is high but he wasn't upset at all when his case got upstaged by a recent incident "about the DUI with the actor." Parkman says, "Thank goodness for a change and thank goodness we came out maybe better than he did with it, with his statements."
He says it's a good thing that the case has high interest and he hopes that eventually some things can come out about the facts in the case "about what would be really true facts and not allegations that have just been levied against him (Mr. Eriksson) whether by rumor or by other people. So at some point in time, hopefully, this will come out."
Stay with wsfa.com as we continue to follow the case of "Ferrari Guy" and Lower Alabama's own Jim Parkman.
Reported by: Helen Hammons