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'Desperate Housewives' trial ends with one final twist

March 13, 2012 |  1:45 pm

Nicollette Sheridan

A trial pitting the creator of “Desperate Housewives” against a former leading lady on the ABC soap delivered jurors one final plot twist Tuesday -– a surprise whistleblower with a conspiracy theory about evidence destruction.

The witness, a construction coordinator responsible for building the show’s Wisteria Lane sets, said he had been copied accidentally on an email that discussed wiping computer hard drives clean of information about actress Nicollette Sheridan.

“I felt it wasn’t intended for me, it wasn’t my business,” Michael Reinhart said of the message he received on his work computer shortly after Sheridan filed her 2010 wrongful termination suit against the show’s creator, Marc Cherry, and Touchstone Television Productions.

Reinhart said he deleted the message immediately, but was troubled by its content and contacted a lawyer for Sheridan as her trial neared its end.

“I was trying to bring the truth out,” he said.

Jurors had been scheduled to hear closing arguments and Reinhart’s testimony sent a ripple of excitement through the packed courtroom. A defense lawyer argued strenuously against allowing him to take the stand, telling the judge what Reinhart saw was likely a memorandum ordering employees to preserve all their electronic records for the case, not to destroy them.

Superior Court Judge Elizabeth White said it was up to the jury to decide the significance of Reinhart’s testimony, but said outside the presence of jurors, “I admit he appears to be confused.”

On cross-examination, defense lawyer Adam Levin asked, “Is it possible you misunderstood the email?”

“Yes, it’s possible,” Reinhart replied, saying he could not remember the specific language of the message.

He also testified that Sheridan’s lead attorney Mark Baute had promised to find him work after he voiced concerns that he was committing “professional suicide” by testifying against his employers.

“He said, ‘What if I get you a job if you testify,’” he said.

Outside the courtroom, Baute disputed that testimony, saying he never made such a comment.

Both sides said they would like forensic examiners to look at Reinhart’s hard drive, but the judge said she wanted to keep the case on schedule and hoped jurors would begin deliberations Tuesday or Wednesday.

When the jury does get the case, they will have one less issue to decide. The judge threw out Sheridan’s battery claim saying there was not enough evidence to support it. Outside court, Sheridan’s lawyer downplayed the development.

“Under the law, [battery] is worth $1,” Baute said.

Jurors must still decide whether Cherry’s decision to kill off Sheridan’s character, Edie Britt, was retaliation for an on-set incident in which she accused him of striking her in the head.

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-- Harriet Ryan

Photo: Nicollette Sheridan arrives at court Tuesday in Los Angeles. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

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