Pubdate: Wed, 18 Feb 2009
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2009 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Chris Joyner
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


Jurors in the federal trial of Mayor Frank Melton took a master's
course in constitutional law from federal prosecutors last week.

So far, the defense has given them little more than a pop quiz in
what might have driven Melton on Aug. 26, 2006, when he and his
entourage raided a suspected crack house on Ridgeway Street.

Melton and his former police bodyguard Michael Recio are charged with
federal civil rights violations related to the raid and face between
five and 25 years in prison if convicted.

Defense attorneys Tuesday launched their rebuttal to nearly a week of
damaging testimony, much of it centered on the mayor. But jurors
heard less than an hour of testimony and arguments from the defense
team,  much of it broken by lengthy bench conferences and frequent

Before the trial began, John Reeves, Melton's attorney, suggested he
would mount a defense that Melton was not responsible for the
majority of damage to the Ridgeway Street structure and that unknown
"thugs" had done most of the damage after the mayor left. There was
little  hint of that defense Tuesday.

Instead, he began a brief campaign aimed less at challenging the
narrative of the prosecution's case and more aimed at shaping its

"That facts of this case are straightforward," Reeves told the jury.
"The key will be how you apply the facts to the law."

Prosecution witnesses told jurors Melton had been warned to keep on
the right side of federal law before the raid and that Melton had
been drinking the night of the raid. His former bodyguard, Marcus
Wright, told how Melton made an unscheduled stop on Ridgeway and 
directed a group of young men to break apart the duplex with
sledgehammers while he attacked it with a "Walking Tall" stick.

Recio is accused of standing idly by while Melton directed the
destruction, doing nothing to prevent it and then engaging in a cover
up after the damage was done.

Rather than dispute the raw facts, Reeves instead called witnesses to
plant the seed in jurors' minds that Melton had wholesome motives.

Reeves called two witnesses, both of whom were admitted drug users,
who professed personal knowledge of crack cocaine sales at the
duplex. In testimony lasting less  than 10 minutes combined, both said
they told the mayor about the problem prior to the raid.

Reeves plans to call a third admitted drug user this morning who will
present similar testimony. After that, Reeves said he will rest his
case. There is no indication Melton will testify.

One of Reeves' witnesses, Hinds County inmate Daniel Smith, was sworn
in and seated while the jury was out so they could not see he was in

Melton seems to be resting his hopes on the jury understanding his
intentions were not to break the law. Melton's actions that night
were not random, Reeves told the jury.

"He had a reason for being there," he said.

Cynthia Stewart, Recio's attorney, took the lead in working with
prosecutors and U.S. District Court Judge Dan Jordan to craft
instructions for the jurors. Chief among those, from her perspective,
is that jurors look separately at the two men when assigning guilt or

In an unsuccessful motion for acquittal, Stewart noted prosecutors
had amassed "overwhelming evidence ... against Mr. Melton that simply
does not apply to Mr.  Recio."

If the defense attorneys have any surprises left, they are running
out of opportunities. The defense may conclude its testimony today,
Jordan said.

Earlier, Reeves and Stewart said they would need two full days each
to put on their case.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin