Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vacation From Hell!

I bet you thought I forgot about you.

I've spent most of the last month serving on a jury. It was a federal civil rights trial in which the Mayor of the City of Jackson, Mississippi and one of his bodyguards were defendants.

I'm exhausted. Saturday evening when we returned from court (yes, we even had to spend the day in the jury room at the courthouse on Saturday) my husband took me to the emergency room... I had a broken blood vessel in my palm and was having severe muscle spasms from the stress. They kept me a little while because my blood pressure was really high. It has been one hell of an experience and I have lots of stories to tell about my time there as soon as I can detach myself a little bit and get out from under the stress. Needless to say, I am also almost a month behind at work due to having to go do my duty and serve. I will be putting my thoughts together in the near future and sharing them with you. In the meantime, you can read the story about the outcome of the trial here: This is an article from a few days ago followed by an article which appeared this morning in the Clarion Ledger... both articles were written by Chris Joyner ( Now that the judge has released the jury, I am going to the doctor to follow up on my blood pressure and the stress before I try and tackle work. I'll write more for you soon.

Waiting for a verdict in the federal trial of Jackson Mayor Frank Melton and his former police bodyguard, Michael Recio, has settled into a routine — hours of silence punctuated by moments of activity followed by intense speculation.
Jurors wrapped up another day of deliberations Monday without any resolution of the charges facing Melton, 59, and Recio, 39. The jury has had the case since last Wednesday.“I think they are over at around 20 hours (of deliberations),” said Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey, who has been observing the trial. “What we are seeing is a very long deliberation given the amount of testimony.”Melton and Recio are charged with two counts of civil rights violations related to their role in an Aug. 26, 2006, warrantless raid on a duplex that Melton has said was a drug house in the Virden Addition. The mayor is accused of directing a group of young men armed with sledgehammers in an attack on the house. Melton and Recio face a third charge of using a handgun in the commission of a violent crime.If convicted on all three counts, Melton and Recio would serve between five and 25 years in prison. Melton also would have to give up his office, and Recio would have to resign from the city police force where he has worked since July 1992.There were signs Monday that jurors are continuing to work their way through a legal maze in search of a conclusion. Midway through the deliberations, jurors sent U.S. District Court Judge Dan Jordan a note asking a technical question about the second count — deprivation of rights under color of law. The charge has four elements, each of which must be satisfied for the jury to conclude either or both of the men are guilty.The question was about the fourth element of the charge — that the defendants used, or threatened to use, a dangerous weapon. According to Jordan, jurors asked if it was required that either defendant personally aim or direct a weapon themselves.“The question was whether there was a use, attempted use or threatened use (of a weapon) in elements one, two and three of count two,” Jordan said in his response to the jury.In testimony, former bodyguard Marcus Wright testified he drew his weapon when he entered the house but he said he did not see anyone inside. A neighbor testified Wright pointed a gun at him, but Wright said he did not remember him.Wright was indicted with Melton and Recio but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against the other defendants.Jordan and attorneys for both sides agreed a weapon did not have to be pointed at a specific person for the jury to find Melton and Recio guilty of the charge.Jurors also may be considering whether the sledgehammers are weapons in terms of the charge.In past days the jury has used notes to request transcripts of testimony, legal definitions and for more mundane reasons.The deliberations have been dogged by delays, including Saturday when Jordan spent the day interviewing individual jurors to see if their deliberations had been compromised.Jordan said he interviewed two jurors who said they had outside contact about the trial.“At the end of the day, both jurors stopped other people when they tried to communicate with them,” Jordan said.Another round of interviews was launched Saturday after a juror wrote a note to the judge saying a fellow juror had not been following the judge’s instructions. Before closing arguments last week, Jordan spent an hour instructing the jury on how to interpret the law in deciding guilt or innocence.Jordan did not say which instruction the juror was accused of ignoring. Attorneys met with Jordan privately for an hour Monday to discuss the juror issues.Jordan said two motions were made, but he sealed them to avoid the possibility such information could get back to the jury. “The substance of the matter will not be released until the trial concludes,” he said.John Reeves, Melton’s attorney, was asked about the motions after court recessed for the day. “You mean the motion for mistrial?” he said. “The judge has asked us to be real careful about commenting at this point.”University of Mississippi law professor Ronald Rychlak said outside interference with a jury is a serious problem.“What jurors are supposed to rely upon is evidence that has been tested through the trial process, so if they are bringing in evidence from the outside, then you have a problem with the jury,” he said. “That might result in a mistrial, but judges try to avoid mistrials because there is a lot of waste there.”Rychlak consulted for the defense shortly after the mayor’s July indictment. He said the right to an open trial is not unlimited. “There are times when it’s completely appropriate to do things in chamber,” he said.A number of people have spent time in the federal courthouse awaiting word of a verdict, including Melton supporters. Southwest Jackson resident Rodney Roebuck said he believes Melton violated the law but hopes the jury sets him free.“If he didn’t do anything else, he got rid of one crack house,” he said. “That’s why the Founding Fathers gave us nullification in the jury system.”While not in America’s founding documents, nullification has been part of the legal system since the country’s birth. It occurs when a jury ignores a violation of law and declares a defendant not guilty.“The (public) safety factor outweighs the laws that were broken,” Roebuck said.

February 25, 2009
Jury deadlocks, mistrial declared in mayor's trial

Mayor Frank Melton was sitting behind closed doors with his attorney and former police bodyguard Michael Recio when he learned Tuesday morning that the jury was hopelessly deadlocked.
"It's nothing to play with. There's no room for arrogance. I felt very humble," Melton recalled later in the day. "I'm never going to put myself nor this city in that position ever again."
Across town, Evans "Bubba" Welch greeted news of the mistrial with disgust.
"I feel like they let a criminal continue to walk the streets. They shouldn't convict anyone in the state of Mississippi until they convict him," he said. "I don't want to hear any more about this trial until he is convicted."
Welch was living in a duplex on Ridgeway Street on Aug. 26, 2006, when Melton appeared on his doorstep with his bodyguards and an entourage of young men.
Melton is accused of ordering the young men to attack the house with sledgehammers while he broke out windows with a large stick and his bodyguards kept watch.
Prosecutors said Welch and his landlord, Jennifer Sutton, were the victims of civil rights abuses at the hands of the 59-year-old Melton and 39-year-old Recio. After six days of testimony and five days of deliberation, jurors were unable to agree on any of the three criminal counts facing each man.
"It was rough," said one juror, who identified herself only as Martha from Hattiesburg. "We did all we possibly could. ... I read the jury instructions so many times, my eyes were bleeding. I felt very strongly about the decision I made. I believe we're all sorry we couldn't give the people of Jackson more."
She said the jurors were split by votes that varied on the different counts. She said there was no 11-1 vote on any count.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will talk Monday on the next steps, but for now Melton is free on bond.
"The mayor has lived to fight another day," his attorney, John Reeves, said following the decision. "Mayor Melton unconditionally proclaims his innocence."
Prosecutor Mark Blumberg said he, defense attorneys and U.S. District Court Judge Dan Jordan will discuss setting a date for a new trial in a conference call Monday.
Melton, Recio and fellow bodyguard Marcus Wright were acquitted two years ago on state charges of felony malicious mischief, conspiracy, directing a minor to commit a felony and burglary in the raid on the duplex. The federal investigation began shortly thereafter. A federal grand jury indicted the men in July.
Wright pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against Melton and Recio. Wright's sentencing has been delayed and likely will be again if the mayor is retried.
Jordan reminded the parties his gag order remains in place and urged them to reread his orders on pretrial publicity.
In all likelihood, selecting a jury for a new trial will be a repeat of the last time, with jurors pulled from across the southern half of the state.
While it would be more likely to find unbiased jurors somewhere else, in the federal system, only the defense can request to move a trial. It is unlikely Melton would want to be tried outside a region that elected him and has twice decided against convicting him.
Jordan said he would like to preserve the pool of potential jurors in the district "to the extent possible."
"I think it would be malpractice for a defense lawyer to counsel moving this case to people who have never heard of it," said Matt Steffey, a Mississippi College law professor who has followed the case. "Just among the people who I run into personally in Jackson, there are more people who support the mayor than think he should be held accountable for this. That is without regard to race, age, gender or affluence. To me the most common sentiment is, 'Enough already.' "
Steffey said Melton's vigilante-style behavior, which culminated in the Ridgeway Street raid, raised legitimate concerns about the rule of law and the abuse of power.
"Perhaps one state trial and one criminal trial in federal court, whatever the outcome, is enough of an effort to vindicate the rule of law in this event," he said. "This wasn't a general referendum of the mayor's conduct. We have elections for that."
For his part, Melton said he has to get used to not "being Frank."
"I'm so sorry the people of Jackson have had to go through this, but I appreciate their prayers," he said. "I've learned a great lesson. I'm just used to being Frank. I've had to come to the reality that every decision I make affects a lot of different people."
Lesson learned or not, Melton and Recio, who also remains free on bond, still face the same charges.
The charges carry a possible penalty of between five and 25 years in prison. Melton also would be forced from office and Recio from the Jackson Police Department if they are convicted on any of the three charges.
In addition, Melton is a party in a civil suit brought by Sutton, who is seeking $250,000 for damage done to the house, lost income and other damages. She also has a lawsuit in federal court.Additional Facts
Archive: More coverage of Melton's trial