Alabama Scene

Almost a slam dunk



It is high time that President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, end the waste of precious government resources and remove the federal forces from Montgomery. It is an exercise that has already cost taxpayers upwards of $50 million dollars and some say has violated constitutional principles of state-federal relations by the interference of federal authorities in the legislative process of a Sovereign State.

The president has fulfilled his deal to let the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington prosecute the defendants in the alleged corruption over Bingo legislation. That is now behind us. The quid pro quo of the deal, I am told by reliable sources, was that Alabama’s junior senator and vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions, would go easy on at least some of Obama’s judicial nominees. That is also behind us.

Last Friday a federal jury in the capital city rendered 81 verdicts of not guilty but deadlocked on 33 counts. Earlier in the trial U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson dismissed 14 counts. The charges against the nine defendants arose from allegations of vote buying during the legislative battle last year to adopt a proposed constitutional amendment permitting electronic bingo in the state and to send that to voters to approve or disapprove. That should be behind us.

The jury’s action was nearly a slam dunk for the defense, totally clearing two of the defendants, but leaving the others to face the remaining undecided counts if the Department of Justice chooses to try the case again.

Questions have arisen as to whether or not George Beck, the newly-appointed U.S. attorney for the Middle District, would now take over supervision of the case. It is my understanding that since the folks at Main Justice in Washington have had control it is not likely that they would turn the matter over to Beck. However, based on their performance up until now and the millions this is costing taxpayers, they should.

Speculation during the trial centered on the removal from the courtroom of the Lead FBI Agent Keith Baker who abruptly left the first day of the trial and did not return until testimony ended. He was initially expected to be a key witness for the prosecution. I previously reported that Baker had lost his notes. His absence has yet to be explained by the judge or the prosecution… but it should be.

Speculation after the trial centered on the suspicion that jurors had conflicts in their deliberations and centered on one juror who some thought, perhaps single-handedly, prevented acquittals on all the unresolved counts. When the jury returned to announce the verdicts, several jurors were visibly upset, some even crying.

One juror, Teresa Tolbert of Red Level, has already spoken out about the trial, indicating that at least a significant majority of the panel did not believe the federal prosecutors. Here’s what she said on a post to WSFA TV in Montgomery.

“In his opening statement on June 10th prosecutor Justin Shur told us that the government would use the defendants’ own words to prove its case. He also told us that this case was not about politics as usual, not about legitimate lobbying, not about raising campaign funds. He said this case was about greed and corruption; that the defendants broke the law over and over again and they were going to prove it to us unequivocally. They weren’t able to do that.

“Those tapes that we listened to, many times I felt a sense of incredulity because I just couldn’t believe that this is what they had. The three who got the plea deals, Gilley, Massey and Pouncy, had no credibility in my eyes. Beason, Mask and Lewis had obvious political motivations.

“The only regret that I have is that we were not able to reach a unanimous decision on all the counts. It felt like a job that wasn’t completed.”

Since the verdict there has been a lot of guessing about the jury’s vote count on the undecided counts. Some trial observers think it was 10-2 for acquittal, others say 9-3, but most believe there was an overwhelming majority for the defendants. I spoke with Mrs. Tolbert Sunday and she revealed to me that it was 8-4, for acquittal.

Perhaps the real conspiracy was the federal government rigging the outcome of state legislation.

Final score: Not guilty, 81 counts; 14 counts tossed by the judge; 33 counts unresolved.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at: