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Witness tampering accusations fly

LIBERTY — A rare twist was added in the trial of a McCombattorney accused of selling marijuana to an inmate of the LincolnCounty Jail when the judge informed counsel of witness tamperingaccusations.

The announcement was made Thursday shortly after Capt. ChrisPicou, a narcotics officer with the Lincoln County Sheriff’sOffice, finished his testimony. The jury had been ushered into thejury room before the declaration was made.

Charles Miller, representing McComb attorney John Jackson, firstbroached the subject when District Attorney Danny Smith said hisnext witness would be Cedric Watson. Watson is an inmate in thejail who helped officers in the “sting” operation on Jackson.

Miller objected to allowing Watson to take the stand, claimingWatson had made attempts to get Herbert Perkins to change histestimony. Perkins is the informant who first tipped officers toJackson’s alleged drug trade.

Judge Al Johnson questioned Miller about the witnesses and thenruled that witness tampering was a related, but separate, issuethat would have to be taken up after the conclusion of the trial.Miller’s objection would be entered into the court record, but hewould allow Watson to take the stand.

Miller responded by demanding a mistrial or that the judgerecuse himself.

“I don’t know what else is relevant in this trial when acriminal is running the court,” Miller said, referring toWatson.

Johnson then informed counsel that at first he had no intentionof allowing a letter he received Wednesday afternoon into thecourt, but Miller’s objection had made the topic necessary.

The letter, the judge said, was from an attorney representingthe defense in a civil lawsuit filed by Jackson against thoseinvolved in his arrest. In the letter, the attorney disclosed tothe court that an investigator used by Jackson’s side in the casebefore Johnson’s court had been accused of witness tampering.

Miller exploded in anger and accused Johnson of trying tofurther sabotage his defense, noting that this was the first timehe had heard about the letter. He also questioned Johnson’s motivefor informing him of the letter in open court and not in thejudge’s chambers.

Johnson reminded Miller he was first to make accusations ofwitness tampering, and he was responding to that motion. Johnsonthen ruled that he would allow the letter to be included in thecourt record in the event the witness tampering case went totrial.

Miller aggressively demanded the letter not be added to thecourt record, calling it a personal attack.

“You are acting as a prosecutor in this case and not as ajudge,” Miller said.

Smith then admitted to the court that he had received the sameletter as the judge, but had been made aware of possible witnesstampering in September. Smith said he planned to pursue the caseafter the Jackson trial was concluded.

Earlier testimony by Mississippi Department of CorrectionsProbation Office John Purser had identified Perkins as theinformant for both the jail shakedown and the information thatbegan the investigation on Jackson.

Johnson said he felt sure that Miller would be able to bringPerkins’ reliability as an informant into question during hisdirect examination.

“I’m putting no credence in this letter or in what you have saidin deciding this case,” Johnson told Miller. “I am not going tostop this trial in the middle to hold hearings on witnesstamperings. That is a matter for a later court to decide.”

Jurors heard conflicting testimony Thursday from the twoinformants involved in the case, Watson and Perkins. MDOC officerPurser had earlier testified that Perkins provided him theinformation that Jackson was giving drugs to Watson when they metin the jail.

Watson admitted knowing Perkins, but said they were onlyacquaintances who had met in the cellblock.

He admitted calling Perkins several times since Perkins wasreleased in late April or early May, but denied discussing the casewith him. There was one exception.

According to Watson, Perkins volunteered information to him. Hehad offered him $1,500 to lie about Watson and wanted Watson to saya jail trusty gave him the drugs. Watson said he reported theconversation to the district attorney’s office in September.

When Miller requested Watson’s testimony be dismissed, Johnsonordered the jury from the room. Johnson said any improper actionsby counsel would be dealt with by the proper authorities and thetrial must continue with the evidence and testimonies it has.

“It was not the court’s intention that this be brought beforethe jurors, but you brought that out during yourcross-examination,” Johnson told Miller.

Watson denied asking Perkins to bring him drugs to set upJackson and also denied telling Perkins he brought the marijuanainto the interview room by hiding it in the crotch of his pants.Watson said he was searched and, if it had been there, it wouldhave been found.

When Perkins was permitted to testify for the defense later inthe day, he denied tipping off officers about inmates in the jailwho had contraband, including marijuana, that turned up during ashakedown of the jail. Perkins also denied giving officers theinformation that started the investigation on Jackson.

Perkins’ testimony also conflicted with testimony by Purser.Purser said the information in both instances was obtained fromPerkins and led to him being considered a reliable informant.

Perkins’ testimony also conflicted with Watson’s. Perkinstestified that he and Watson had been friends for a long time andgrew up in the same neighborhood, Brookhaven.

Perkins testified that Watson had asked him to tell Purser thatJackson was giving Watson drugs, which he did. Perkins said he didnot supply Watson with marijuana to use in setting up Jackson, butthat Watson’s sister did.

“That was the way he was going to get them, to play it thatJackson brought it to him,” Perkins said, referring to a planallegedly devised by Watson. Jackson has denied selling marijuana,claiming he was set up by an habitual criminal.

Perkins admitted under the cross-examination by Smith, that upuntil Thursday, he had told the district attorney’s office anotherversion of the story. That version was the same story that Purserhad testified to.

Perkins said no mention of this new version was given untilThursday because “then the plan wouldn’t have worked.”