Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jul 2008
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2008 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Chris Joyner


Feds Prosecuting a Crime He Was Acquitted Of, Mayor Says

A day after being indicted by a federal grand jury, Jackson Mayor 
Frank Melton belittled the charges as lacking heft despite their 
heavyweight appearance.

After more than a year of investigating Melton, the U.S. Department 
of Justice announced Wednesday that Melton and his police bodyguards 
Marcus Wright and Michael Recio had been charged with two civil 
rights violations and a gun charge as a result of their role in 
wrecking a duplex on Ridgeway Street in west Jackson.

Last year, a Hinds County jury found the three not guilty of burglary 
and felony criminal mischief related to damaging the house, which 
Melton maintains was a drug house. Now the feds are walking the same 
ground, despite an intense investigation, Melton said.

"They've been here for 18 months, and it's a totally separate group 
out of Washington. They've looked at everything - I mean every durn 
thing. At the end of it, there is just that house," he said. "I 
haven't stolen anything, I haven't embezzled anything, and I 
certainly haven't put my hands on anybody in an abusive way."

Mississippi College law school Professor Matt Steffey said charges 
from the federal investigation surprised him, too. Although Melton, 
Wright and Recio beat the state charges in their April 2007 trial, 
they can be tried in federal court as well because they now are 
accused of violating federal law. "That is a technicality if there 
ever was one. To the mayor, it's going to seem like he is standing 
trial for the same crime twice," he said. "This is a proper charge 
under the government's theory of the case. I just wonder what we've 
gained as citizens to try him under the state criminal code and then 
try him under the federal code. Are we going to try him under the 
international code in The Hague next time?"

Evans Welch, a diagnosed schizophrenic with a criminal history, was 
living in the house the night it was damaged. Jackson resident 
Jennifer Sutton had recently purchased the building and inherited 
Welch as a tenant. Melton, Wright and Recio are charged with two 
counts of conspiring "under the color of law" to violate the 
constitutional rights of Welch and Sutton to be free of unreasonable 
search and seizure. The indictment also alleges Wright was armed, so 
the three also face a charge of using a gun during a violent crime.

The men are scheduled to appear Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate 
Judge Linda Anderson for an initial appearance. U.S. District Court 
Judge Daniel Jordan III has been assigned the case.

If convicted on all counts, Melton, Wright and Recio could face 
decades in prison. Each conspiracy count carries up to 10 years in 
prison. The gun charge carries a minimum five years.

Prosecuting the case will be Justice Department Civil Rights Deputy 
Chief Mark Blumberg and Justice Department trial attorney Patricia 
Sumner. Wright and Recio are no longer Melton's bodyguards. They have 
been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of charges.

In a statement released Thursday by her attorney, Sutton welcomed the 
federal charges.

"As an American citizen, I feel that my rights were violated when my 
property was destroyed by the city of Jackson and our mayor, Frank 
Melton," she said. "I am pleased that the federal government has seen 
fit to attempt to right that wrong with the indictment of those who 
wrongfully destroyed my property." Melton, who has long held the 
investigation was politically motivated, said the investigation 
"seems like it is a big scam" to force him from office. He said 
before his state trial he was offered a deal that if he resigned the 
investigations would end.

"I was offered that deal four times and I was offered that deal in 
writing," he said. "They came to me three of four different ways and 
said that if I would resign all this would go away."

Melton's attorney, former Mayor Dale Danks Jr., said he is not sure 
he still has the written offer. But he said the understanding 
verbally was state and federal investigators would drop the case if 
Melton resigned. Melton said the deal was "bizarre" and included a 
provision he return to his home state of Texas for a year. Without 
explicitly saying he caused the damage, the mayor said he stood 
behind his actions on Ridgeway Street. "I was hired to get that mess 
out of Jackson," said Melton, who stayed home Thursday. "We have a 
situation here in the inner city where senior citizens have worked 
all their lives ... and have to be exposed to this all day and every 
day. "Ethically, morally, I feel like I was dead right," he said. 
Former Hinds County Assistant District Attorney Stanley Alexander 
said he never offered anyone a deal in the case but he cannot say 
what happened before he took over as lead prosecutor.

Alexander, now a prosecutor with the state attorney general's office, 
said he wasn't surprised with the federal indictment.

"We have a constitution to protect the rights of the minority, the 
little people in our society. No one is above the other when it comes 
to our constitution," Alexander said. "I'm prayerful justice will be 
served." Former Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson would 
not comment on whether there was a proposed deal.

"I fully recall all events in reference the case of the State of 
Mississippi v. Frank Melton, however, based on the questions that you 
are posing, some of those events would be privileged and the Mayor 
nor his associates have waived any issues of privilege," Peterson 
said in an e-mail to The Clarion-Ledger. "I do not want to respond to 
any media inquiries which would impede Mayor Melton, Michael Recio or 
Marcus Wright's ability to receive a fair trial."

Danks said he is working out arrangements to represent the mayor. He 
said he has contacted attorney Buddy Coxwell, who also was on 
Melton's defense team during his 2007 trial.

Robert Shuler Smith and Winston Thompson, the attorneys for Wright 
and Recio during the state trial, will not be returning this time 
around. Smith was elected Hinds County district attorney last year 
and chose Thompson as his assistant. 
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