Meling Tells Court About Deep Love For His Wife
Sudafed-tampering suspect Joseph Meling told jurors today he "was a pretty cruddy husband" in his first marriage, partly because he couldn't get his mind off his true love, Jennifer Lindbo.
"The entire time I was married to Lori . . . Jennifer was on my mind. . . . Lori got real tired of hearing Jennifer's name," he said.
The defendant took the stand this morning as a defense witness in his product-tampering trial in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Meling eventually divorced his first wife and married Jennifer, whom he is now accused of trying to kill. Prosecutors say Meling poisoned his wife and killed two other people in the process by placing cyanide-filled capsules in Sudafed packages in 1991.
In a dark suit, crisp white shirt and yellow tie, Meling answered questions this morning from Carol Koller, one of his two defense attorneys.
Before his three-year marriage to Lori Firebaugh, Meling had been engaged to Jennifer, but he said he angrily broke off the engagement and insulted her repeatedly because she told him she had slept with another man.
Years later, when he and Jennifer were married, she told him it had not been a romantic relationship. "She had been raped in her (college) dorm room by a friend of her roommate's," Meling testified.
Meling wept as he told jurors of the incident. "I had promised to be there when she needed me . . . Instead, I had turned my back and called her every name in the book," he said.
Meling, 31, a former Tumwater insurance salesman, is charged with product tampering, perjury and insurance fraud and could face up to life in prison if convicted.
Yesterday, a federal prosecutor used conversations recorded by a hidden FBI microphone to try to damage the credibility of Meling's mother, who was on the witness stand.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanne Maida suggested that Velma Meling has "an unconditional love" for her son that causes her to ignore facts and hide recollections that put him in a bad light.
"It's a mother's love for a son," Velma Meling countered, adding that she would not be dishonest to help her son.
The Vancouver, Wash., woman testified yesterday that her son was an "emotional wreck" after his wife nearly died and then left him. "He felt like his whole life was down the tubes," she said.
"Reporters and FBI and everyone constantly harassing him . . . he couldn't even do his job," she said. "Everybody was pointing the finger at him."
Velma Meling said her son truly cared about his wife and wanted to preserve the marriage.
Maida sought to point out discrepancies between what Velma Meling told a grand jury in 1991 and what FBI agents overheard through a microphone planted in the Meling home.
Although Velma Meling repeatedly testified she never heard her son admit staging a home burglary to get insurance money, a conversation recorded June 6, 1991, deals with that subject.
"I don't recall this conversation, even though my voice may be in it," Velma Meling said after reviewing the transcript. She said it appeared the burglary was discussed by Joseph Meling and his father, and that she didn't enter the conversation until the subject changed.
"I probably wasn't paying attention to what they were saying," she said.
Joseph Meling is charged with nine counts of mail fraud stemming from the alleged staged burglary in 1989. He will face trial on those charges separately.
Velma Meling offered supportive testimony for two parts of her son's defense: that he used a gram scale to measure ingredients for his special pasta sauce, and that his enthusiasm with monster makeup dated to his adolescence.
Prosecutors have attempted to plant the suggestion that Meling, seen cleaning the scale shortly before the Sudafed poisonings, may have used it to measure out quantities of sodium cyanide.
They further suggest that Meling could have used his makeup supplies to put on a disguise when he allegedly bought the chemical.
Jurors yesterday heard from an Albuquerque, N.M., woman who said she became ill in Hawaii in 1991 after taking a Sudafed capsule she bought at Los Angeles International Airport.
Edith Ford said she started sweating, had trouble breathing, vomited and became dizzy within minutes after taking the Sudafed capsule, and that she improved after being given a cyanide antidote at a hospital.
Ford was subpoenaed by Meling's attorneys, who maintain that government agents failed to adequately follow up on any case that might have pointed away from Meling as a suspect.
Maida, however, suggested that Ford is a hypochondriac, and said medical reports indicate the woman has a history of complaints her doctors have not been able to substantiate. In the 3 1/2 years ending May 1992, Ford contacted her physician 152 times, Maida said.
Ford's complaints included sore throats, mouth sores, blurred vision, congestion, leg pain, back pain, neck pain and hand pain, but many dealt with dizziness and vomiting.
Ford said each of her complaints was legitimate and many were "aftereffects" from radiation therapy which she had previously undergone for treatment of cancer.
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