Pubdate: Wed, 18 Feb 2009
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2009 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Blair Goldstein


If wrapped up today, verdict could come by end of the 

Defense attorneys for Mayor Frank Melton and his former police
bodyguard Michael Recio expect to wrap up their cases today in
federal court, paving the way for a possible verdict by the end of
the week.

It is still unclear whether Melton plans to take the stand. However,
Recio's attorney, Cynthia Stewart, indicated Recio likely will testify.

The plan was announced Tuesday at the end of a stop-and-go day at the
federal court house in downtown  Jackson.

U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan asked attorneys to be prepared to give
closing statements this afternoon. Federal prosectors said their
statement likely would last one hour.

Tuesday was day one of the defense's case. Jurors heard an opening
statement from Melton's attorney as well as testimony from three
defense witnesses.

Melton, 59, and Recio, 39, face federal civil rights charges related
to a warrantless, police-style raid on a Jackson duplex in August
2006. Melton later said the building was a "crack house."

If convicted on all counts, the men face between five and 25 years in
prison. A guilty verdict would force Melton from office. Recio, who
is on leave from the Jackson Police Department with pay, would have
to  surrender his badge.

Melton's attorney, John Reeves, did not give his opening statement at
the beginning of the trial.  Instead, he reserved the statement until

In less than 10 minutes, Reeves told the jury that Melton does not
dispute that he was present at the duplex the night of August 26,
2006. Instead, Reeves  said Melton disputes that he intended to
violate anyone's constitutional rights.

"A violation of the constitution, by itself, is not a crime," Reeves

He told jurors they will hear from witnesses who bought, used or sold
drugs at the duplex and who told Melton about the activity.

"The evidence will show that Mayor Frank Melton did not just pop in
that day willy-nilly," Reeves said. "He had a reason for being there."

Reeves called two of those witnesses Tuesday.

In brief testimony, the first, Tamaria Evans, said she had been an
alcoholic and drug user, knew drugs were sold at the duplex and
passed the information on to the mayor.

The other witness, Daniel Smith, testified he was a crack user and
that he had told Melton the day of the raid that crack cocaine was
used and sold at the  duplex.

Smith, a Hinds County inmate, was led into the courtroom in shackles
and an orange prison jumpsuit.

Jordan put Smith on the stand while the jury was at lunch to make
sure he was advised of his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate
himself and to offer him the services of a federal public defender.

"No, your honor, I'm fine," he said.

Before offering his official testimony, Melton arranged for Smith to
change into a blue Jackson State University pullover and blue sweat
pants. He was  sitting at the witness stand when jurors walked in so 
they could not see the shackles on his wrists and ankles.

On cross-examination, federal prosecutor Mark Blumberg asked Smith if
he purchased illegal drugs at the duplex the morning of the raid.
Smith said he had. Blumberg  then asked if he had been arrested or
questioned about that purchase. Smith said he had not.

Recio's attorney, Cynthia Stewart, called Jackson police officer
Quincy Russell to the stand.

Russell testified he was sent to the duplex the night of the raid by
police dispatch. He said he arrested duplex tenant Evans Welch on an
outstanding arrest warrant and found two crack pipes and the tool
used to  push drugs into the pipe in Welch's pockets.

Stewart fought to get testimony about the crack pipes admitted into
court. Federal prosecutors argued the pipes were unrelated to the
Fourth Amendment charges.

Jordan ruled the information could be admitted after Stewart said,
"This has to do with what police business was being done that night."

However, Jordan said the pipes would have only limited significance
since they were found after the duplex had been damaged in the raid.

"The party took sledge hammers to the house before they found the
crack pipes," Jordan said.

In cross-examination, federal prosector Patricia Sumner went after
the notion that the arrest of Welch reflected honest police work had
occurred. She asked Russell if he merely transported Welch that
night, as the defense indicated.

He testified that he, not Recio, arrested Welch, filled out all of
the paperwork related to the arrest and  transported Welch to police

Reeves said he plans to call one additional witness today,
Christopher Walker. Although Walker is in the federal prison system,
the court had trouble tracking him down last week. Jordan told
attorneys Tuesday that Walker was now in Jackson. He had been in a
Lafayette,  La., prison.
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