Aug 12, 2003, 5:25 am
A court battle over a $25 million lottery jackpot concluded yesterday with stinging accusations of betrayal and dishonesty.
Teri and Cornell Davis, the Englewood couple who claim they won the March 15 New Jersey Lottery Big Game Mega Millions lottery, are either conspiring liars or the victims of a group of greedy, mean-spirited hospital workers suing them for the cash, depending on which side one believes.
Closing arguments were delivered yesterday in the six-day, non-jury trial after the final witnesses were brought by the group of 20 Englewood Hospital workers who are suing the Davises. Superior Court Judge Marguerite Simon said she will announce her verdict tomorrow.
The workers contend their lottery pool manager, Jamal Townes, also of Englewood, used their money to buy the winning ticket for the March 15 drawing and then secretly gave it to his former neighbor, Cornell Davis, in a conspiracy to split the prize.
The couple -- he's an aspiring chef, she a teacher -- claim the ticket is rightfully theirs.
Simon must weigh evidence and testimony from about a dozen hospital workers, a state lottery official, the owner of the convenience store where the ticket was purchased, as well as from Townes and the Davises.
"What we're talking about in this case is credibility," Sheldon Liebowitz, attorney for the workers, told the judge in his closing statement.
Liebowitz highlighted what he called inconsistencies in Townes' testimony and incidents that raised the workers' suspicions about him. He also mentioned a document, entered into evidence earlier in the trial, from a Tenafly car dealer that showed that Townes' brother looked at a $60,000 BMW a week after the winning lottery ticket was purchased.
But what initially caused the workers to doubt Townes, Liebowitz said, was Townes' actions in the days after the drawing. He told his colleagues "not to be suspicious" because his "cousin," Cornell Davis, had won the lottery and was going to buy him a BMW, several workers testified.
Davis and Townes are not related, and Townes admitted in court that he has not had any recent contact with the Davises.
Liebowitz also tried to paint Townes as dishonest. Townes testified that he never stops at the Circle Food Mart in Englewood, where the winning ticket was purchased, on his way to work. But two private detectives hired by the plaintiffs testified yesterday that they followed Townes to work last Thursday, and that he indeed stopped at the store.
"The proofs show absolutely a definite conspiracy by Jamal Townes and the Davises...," Liebowitz said.
Townes' attorney, Warren Sutnick, called the conspiracy theory "ridiculous."
"The plaintiffs in this case are on a $25 million treasure hunt," he said.
Sutnick also reiterated Townes' claim that it would have been impossible for him to have bought the winning ticket because he was logged into a medical procedure at the hospital at the time it was purchased -- 9:22 a.m. March 14.
The workers have said Townes could have left the hospital to buy the ticket.
Sutnick told the judge to focus on the hospital log sheet and said that everything else, including the trip to the car dealership, was a "red herring." Townes, who has a 10-year-old BMW, regularly visits BMW dealers with his brother because they want to buy a new car, the attorney said.
For his part, James Cinque, the Davises' attorney, portrayed the hospital workers as "mean-spirited" liars.
He said one worker, Karen Morrissey, lied to lottery officials when she initially told them that Townes was not working on the day the ticket was bought. Then she told a lottery official that she suspected Cornell Davis was a convicted felon, which he is not, Cinque said.
The workers offered no proof that Townes ever left the building on the morning the ticket was purchased, Cinque said.
"A finding of conspiracy cannot be found on pure speculation alone," he said. "There's no direct or circumstantial evidence."
After interviewing the Davises, Townes and the hospital workers, a top lottery official testified that the Davises had rightfully won the $25 million.
Cornell Davis told lottery investigators that he purchased $7 worth of tickets at the Circle Mart early March 14 -- making a $5 purchase followed by a $2 purchase immediately afterward. He was able to show both tickets to lottery officials, who verified the sale by location, time and date.
As Townes walked out of the courtroom yesterday, a knapsack slung over his shoulder, he said he regrets making the "wisecracks" that raised his colleagues' suspicions.
"I regret the way I set in motion this whole trial -- and what happened to the Davises," he said.
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