DA: Jury will see videotape

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 15, 2003

LIBERTY — Pre-trial proceedings and a prosecution witnessopened the first day of trial Tuesday in the case of a McCombattorney accused of selling marijuana to an inmate in the LincolnCounty Jail.

Danny Smith, district attorney for the 14th Judicial District,kept his remarks to the details of the case as he opened thetrial.

Smith said he would try to prove to the jury that on June 3,2003, McComb attorney John Jackson met with inmate Cedric Watson inan interview room at the Lincoln County Jail. During that meeting,Smith said, the two men discussed Watson’s case before the circuitcourt on drug charges, but then Jackson passed two packs ofcigarettes and a Saran-wrapped package of marijuana to Watson inexchange for $50.

“Almost immediately afterward,” Smith said, the meeting wasconcluded and Jackson left the jail. Watson was escorted from theroom by a jailer, Phillip Thornton, and Steve Rushing, aninvestigator with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department. Watsonwas searched and handed them the cigarettes and marijuana. He saidhe had received them from Jackson.

Watson was working for investigators at the time, Smith said.Prior to the meeting, they had conferred with Watson, who agreed tohelp them in their investigation of Jackson. Watson was alsosearched before he went in to meet Jackson. He had nothing on himexcept the 50 $1 bills investigators gave him at that time.

The meeting was also videotaped, and Smith promised jurors theywould have an opportunity to see the tape later in the trial.

“If you listen closely,” he said, “you can hear Jackson askingWatson, ‘Is anyone watching?’ before passing him the cigarettes,and again, ‘Is anyone watching?’ before passing the Saran-wrappackage. You will also hear Jackson telling Watson, ‘I’m trustingyou, man. I’m trusting you.'”

Jackson was arrested the next day, June 4, when he returned tojail for another visit with Watson, Smith said. Investigators letJackson leave the day before, he said, because the camera recordingdid not have a monitor in the control room, and officials had towatch the videotape before seeking a warrant.

Investigators were tipped that Jackson was selling drugs toinmates by an informant who was also an inmate at the time, Smithsaid. That informant, Herbert Perkins, has since been released,although not because of the information he provided, the DAsaid.

Smith said he would also prove that Jackson was the only personcapable of making the transaction and was, therefore, the onlyperson with the opportunity.

“Inmates in the cellblock do not have direct contact with anyoneexcept jail personnel and their attorney,” he said.

When families visit inmates, they are separated by a screenmesh.

Attorney Charles Miller, representing Jackson, reserved hisright to hold opening remarks until after the prosecutionrests.

The prosecution opened its case with John Purser, a probationofficer with the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Purser testified that Perkins approached him in April andinformed him that Jackson was selling drugs in the jail. Purseracted on that information by passing it on to John Douglas, anagent with the Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Task Force, andLincoln County Sheriff Lynn Boyte.

On May 8, Purser said, he assisted the sheriff’s office and taskforce with a “shakedown” in the jail. Shakedowns are heldroutinely, although randomly, to search inmates, their cells, andtheir belongings for contraband. Watson was one of those chosen forthe May shakedown. A small amount of marijuana was found on him,and when Purser asked him where he had obtained it, he told Purserhe got it from his attorney, Jackson.

When he gave this information to the investigators, Purser said,they asked Watson to help them with Jackson. Watson agreed. Pursersaid no promises were made or rewards given to Watson for hisassistance.

After the “sting,” Purser said, he arrived at the jail asJackson was being arrested and assisted in the interview.

“Mr. Jackson stated he had brought cigarettes to the jail andcellphones to the jail,” Purser said. “When he was asked what hehad in his left hand during the transaction, he said it would beinconclusive. When we asked him a second time, he repeated that itwould be inconclusive.”

During the cross-examination by Miller, Purser admittedremembering an encounter he had with Jackson at an undisclosed timein the past.

Miller indicated the two men had fought verbally about a reportJackson believed Purser should give him that included the resultsof a pre-sentencing investigation Purser had conducted on one ofJackson’s clients.

Purser disagreed.

“He was very rude that day he came to my office for that, and Itold him it was confidential” and that only the judge could releaseit to him, Purser said.

Purser said he was prevented from providing the investigation toJackson by MDOC policy. Later, Jackson received a copy from thejudge.

Miller also questioned Purser about Perkins, the informant.Miller questioned whether Perkins, who was released shortly afterproviding the information, was rewarded for the tip and also whyinvestigators believed his information to be true.

Purser said information Perkins had provided in the past, suchas when Watson was caught in the shakedown, was provenaccurate.