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Jurors see videotape of alleged drug deal; lawyer faces charges

LIBERTY — Jurors in the trial of a McComb attorney accused ofselling marijuana to an inmate in the Lincoln County Jail viewed avideo of the alleged transaction and an enhanced picture of theitem passed during court proceedings here Tuesday.

The trial is the second for John Jackson, 54. A mistrial wasdeclared in October here when the jury failed to reach a verdict.Eight voted for guilty, three for not guilty and one was undecidedin that trial. The trial was moved Amite County on a change ofvenue.

The video, which was also shown in the October trial, is of poorquality, but clearly shows Jackson giving three packs of cigarettesto Cedric Watson, an inmate participating in an undercoveroperation against the attorney. Cigarettes are consideredcontraband in the jail, and Jackson admitted to giving them toWatson in the first trial. He denied knowing they werecontraband.

What is questionable in the video is what Jackson hands Watsonwhen he receives $50 in marked $1 bills.

“(Jackson) advised me at that time that all the video would showwas some cigarettes and something that would be inconclusive,”former Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Chris Picoutestified. “His whole manner changed at this point when he learnedwe had the video. He became very defensive.”

New to this case are enhanced photos of that secondtransaction.

Lindsey Thornhill, a corporate video production expert fromLockheed-Martin, a contractor to NASA at the John C. Stennis SpaceCenter, testified Tuesday of the process she used to enhancephotographs taken from the video.

“Local law enforcement agencies come to us with surveillancevideos, and we try to enhance them to give them a clearer pictureof what is going on,” she said.

Thornhill said she used the Video Image Stabilization AndRecovery (VISAR) program used by NASA on the space program to dub acopy of the video direct to digital. The VISAR program can make 60pictures out of one second of video and these are then overlayed.That image is then run through several filters to sharpen the edgesand enhance the image, she said.

“It is a widely-accepted practice in our field,” she said.”VISAR is one of the leading technologies available right now.”

Although the item being handed to Watson is still notidentifiable, Thornhill said she was able to conclude that “it isround and curved in nature.”

During cross-examination, Defense Attorney Charles Miller wasunable to get Thornhill to change her evaluation. During the firsttrial, Miller had claimed the object being passed was a pack ofcigarettes. Thornhill’s expert evaluation would seem to disputethat claim in this trial.

The prosecution nearly completed its case Tuesday, rollingthrough six witnesses before the judge called a recess at 6p.m.

Tuesday morning was filled with further testimony from formerSheriff Lynn Boyte, who began his testimony Monday afternoon. Boytetestified that he authorized the investigation after receivinginformation that Jackson was selling marijuana in the jail. Thesheriff said he actually had no role in the investigation until hewas asked to detain the attorney on June 4 until the investigatingofficers could arrive to make the arrest.

Boyte also testified about security methods at the jail andprovided the jury with background information on the layout andpolicies of the facility.

Phillip Thornton and Debbie Welch, employed with the sheriff’soffice as jailers at the time of Jackson’s arrest, also testifiedTuesday.

Thornton testified he escorted Watson from his cell to hismeeting with Jackson and from the meeting back to his cell. He alsowitnessed a search of Watson by Capt. Steve Rushing, aninvestigator with the sheriff’s office, before the meeting and asecond search after the meeting.

Welch testified she was in the booking room during the allegedtransaction but could not see it occur. The booking area is theonly way into the room where the transaction allegedlyoccurred.

Picou, who was the lead investigator in the case, outlined howthe investigation was put together, and the steps officers took inarranging for the “sting” on June 3. Jackson was arrested June 4when he returned to the jail for another consultation with Watson.By that time, Picou said, investigators had reviewed the video andobtained a warrant for his arrest.

Rushing’s testimony, like the rest of the prosecution’switnesses, echoed earlier statements. He testified about searchingWatson before and after the meeting and the video setup.

The prosecution will continue its case Wednesday with JohnDouglas, a member of the Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Task Forcewho helped in the investigation.

The defense is also expected to begin presenting its caseWednesday.