Judge won’t step down from attorney’s drug trial

Published 5:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2003

LIBERTY — The prosecution moved forward Wednesday in its caseagainst a McComb attorney accused of selling marijuana to an inmatein the Lincoln County Jail.

Danny Smith, district attorney for the 14th Judicial District,called six witnesses as he tried to paint a clearer picture of theevents that led to the alleged videotaped transaction on June 3 ofthis year, and the arrest of attorney John Jackson on June 4. He isexpected to call at least two more witnesses today before theprosecution rests.

Witnesses Wednesday testified about security and the layout ofthe Lincoln County Jail, setting up and recording the transaction,the arrest, and verifying the substance they claim was transferredas marijuana.

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Charles Miller, representing Jackson, surprised the small crowdof spectators Wednesday by demanding that specially-appointed JudgeAl Johnson recuse himself on the basis of an eight-point argument.The demand came shortly before lunch after Miller requested sometime with the judge outside the presence of the jury.

Miller claimed the recusal was necessary, in part, because thejudge failed to grant a second change of venue, failed to suppresscertain pieces of evidence during the pre-trial hearings, the courtdoesn’t understand the facts of the case in law, the court allowedthe prosecutor to disallow jurors on the basis of race, andunfairly limited the defense’s questioning of potential jurors.

Miller attempted to expand on his explanation of points outlinedin the motion and was denied an opportunity to speak as the judgeaddressed each issue.

“It is our position that you are not providing the necessaryprotection to our client,” Miller said. “It is almost a waste oftime to go through this trial with the failure to suppress evidenceand change the venue, and with this court.”

Johnson informed Miller that, as in any trial, he was welcome tofile an appeal if he did not win the case. The judge, though, didnot recuse himself.

“This court has absolutely no animosity or bias for thedefense,” Johnson said. “Because of the nature of this case andbecause another attorney is involved, the court has allowed you farmore latitude than I normally allow in my courtroom.”

Lincoln County Sheriff Lynn Boyte opened the testimony onWednesday. While booking Jackson, the sheriff said, authoritiesfound more than $50 in $1 bills among his possessions.

“There were 48 $1 bills that were given him the previous day atthe jail,” Boyte said, referring to money allegedly passed toJackson by an informant in the jail.

Capt. Chris Picou, a narcotics officer with the Lincoln CountySheriff’s Office, later testified that he gave the informant 50 $1bills to give to Jackson in exchange for the marijuana and hadphotocopied the bills to later verify the bills by their serialnumbers.

Boyte was also questioned about his policy of searching visitorsto the jail and how such a transaction could occur.

“I don’t have a policy to search attorneys,” Boyte said. “Ididn’t feel like it was necessary. I have never had one on pastorsnor on attorneys.”

During Boyte’s cross-examination, Miller was attacking thereliability and trustworthiness of the informant when Smith, whowas visibly upset, requested a moment with the judge outside thepresence of the jury.

Smith then questioned why Miller was being allowed tocontinually attack the informant when the judge ruled in pre-trialhearings that the informant’s information did not need to besuppressed. He also requested the judge order Miller to stopquestioning witnesses about a matter of law regarding arrestwarrants.

“This is the most illogical course for pursuit of an arrestwarrant I have ever heard,” he said. “The warrant has no bearing onthis case.”

Miller responded that the two informants were not normally usedby the sheriff’s office, and informants must be proved to becredible before the information can be used to obtain an arrestwarrant.

“The court has extensively had testimony in this case, amongthem a motion to suppress evidence for lack of probable cause,” anddenied it, Johnson said.

The judge said he would give the defense “extreme latitude” inquestioning the witnesses, but would not allow further questioningon the law.

Sheriff’s Department investigator Steve Rushing testified thathe participated in the “sting” June 3 by preparing the videoequipment and searching the informant before and after he met withJackson. The informant’s meeting with Jackson lasted about 10minutes, he said.

“As soon as he came through the door, he was pulling up hisshirt to show me,” the contraband and give me the marijuana,Rushing said.

Rushing admitted during cross-examination that they hadvideotaped other meetings between the two, but they had not watchedthe tape because the informant had not come out of the room withany drugs.

Testimony by Picou, the lead investigator in the case, was notcompleted by the end of the day. That testimony was expected toresume today.