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John DeLorean Trial: 1984

Witness Sensation

When the informant, James Hoffman, took the stand he did so under a cloud. Tapes already played in court had showed him drinking profusely and making lewd comments about women, none of which did anything to shore up his shaky credibility, and it was widely felt that he would buckle under cross-examination. Despite this perception he managed to resist the best that Weitzman could throw at him.

Then came a sensational development: it emerged that Hoffman was trying to work a deal with the government. Judge Robert Takasugi exploded. Blasting the witness as a "hired gun," Takasugi found it to be "offensive" that the prosecution had failed to reveal sooner that Hoffman had "demanded" a share of any money seized in the case. Although said out of the jury's hearing, this revelation brought about a marked change of courtroom atmosphere.

Suddenly, the prosecution was on the back foot, so much so that Weitzman felt no compunction to call DeLorean to the stand, saying, "We don't believe he [has] anything to defend … The burden is on … the Government to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't think they've done that."

In his closing address, chief prosecutor James P. Walsh, Jr. describing DeLorean as "a man with the conscience of a tomcat," someone prepared to do anything to save his ailing auto company, struggled hard to regain the initiative. But the impetus had been lost and he could only sit and muse reflectively as the defense took control.

Throughout the trial Weitzman had varied his pose, at times friendly and almost folksy, at others bitingly sarcastic; but in closing he was at his most aggressive. He likened the case to the George Orwell novel 1984, in which "the whole premise is that the government rewrites history, the government controls people, the government stifles people." Even though the United States government knew that DeLorean was in deep trouble, said Weitzman, it went after him anyway." Somebody should have said, 'Step back here, this is wrong,' "but no, federal officials had approached his client "and promised to save his dream, and there's something wrong with that."

Weitzman piled on the agony. By putting the government on trial, blaming it for his client's transgressions, he clearly struck a chord with the jury, for on August 16, after 29 hours of deliberation, they acquitted DeLorean of all charges.

Talking afterwards, jury members said that they felt the defendant had been entrapped, and that he would not have tried to engage in criminal practices had not the financial carrot been dangled so enticingly by a government more intent on securing a conviction than in upholding the law.

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

DeLorean, John. On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors. Grosse Pointe, Mich.: Wright, 1979.

DeLorean, John and Ted Schwarz. DeLorean. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1985.

Fallon, Ivan and James Strodes. DeLorean, the Rise and Fall of a Dream-Maker. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1983.

Haddad, William. Hard Driving. New York: Random House, 1985.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988John DeLorean Trial: 1984 - Top-notch Lawyer, Witness Sensation