Alabama Scene

A strange case in Baldwin County

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

State Attorney General Luther Strange has taken the prosecution of a homicide against former Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine from Baldwin County’s District Attorney Hallie Dixon after the victim’s family contacted his office.

Strange has told the media it wasn’t “a hostile takeover,” but his actions clearly sent a signal contradicting that assertion.

He said that to him it appeared the case could “benefit from a fresh set of eyes,” then proceeded to choose a different albeit a “senior” set of eyes as the new prosecutor.

Strange chose retired Baldwin District Attorney David Whetstone to take over the prosecution of the case. The attorney general said he is not all that familiar with the case in which Nodine is accused of being involved in the killing of Angel Downs, his longtime lover.

I don’t know if this has ruffled any feathers with the local DA, but I suspect she was not all that thrilled with Strange swooping into her jurisdiction and usurping her duties. It is a place where most attorney generals do not dare go.

However, the situation in Baldwin County brings to mind a somewhat similar situation at the other end of the state that happened in 1972 and one with which I have some familiarity.

Bill Baxley had been elected as attorney general and took office in January 1971. One of Baxley’s supporters in north Alabama was Rick Hall, the founder of Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, which in those years was a rising star in the music-recording business.

Hansel Cross, a former used car dealer, was the police chief in Muscle Shoals in 1971, the year he was accused of using strychnine in the killing of his 51-year-old wife who was also Hall’s mother-in-law.

The local district attorney in Colbert County investigated the matter but couldn’t find the evidence to bring charges. So Baxley, befriending his supporter Rick Hall, took over the investigation along with his assistant, Don Valeska, and brought Cross to trial in the spring of 1972. Local lawyers John Clement and the late Jim Smith defended Cross. Smith later became a circuit judge in the county.

I will never forget Clement “accidentally” referring to Baxley as “governor” throughout the trial, implying to the jury that the attorney general was “up here” preparing his campaign for the state’s highest office.

The trial ended and went to an all male jury. It took them less than four hours to acquit Cross.

I realize Attorney General Strange is not planning to go to Baldwin County and try the Nodine case like Baxley did in Colbert County. But it does make an interesting conversation about prosecutorial manners. Key prosecutors quit Bingo case

Steve Feaga and Louis Franklin, assistant U.S. attorneys in the Middle District of Alabama, have opted not to participate in the retrial of defendants in the Bingo case. The two, who took a lead role in prosecution of the first trial, filed their withdrawals in a document under seal sent to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. They have refused to comment on the matter.

Of the 138 counts in the case there was not one conviction. George Beck, the new U.S. attorney for the district, has also not spoken publicly about the matter, but it is public knowledge that during the extended trial, criminal prosecutions in the district have slowed to a trickle, causing ancillary court workers such as probation officers to be laid off. The trial of the remaining defendants is set to begin Jan. 30. Will Jefferson County go under?

The largest county in the state has a $3-billion problem and if the Governor doesn’t call a special session of the Legislature, county officials say they may have to file for bankruptcy.

County officials have said that legislators have been provided a variety of options to help the county generate some revenue and help prevent what may develop into a ripple effect beyond the county.

There remains no answer at this writing from the Governor and legislative leaders. In Alabama it’s the game of the year

If ticket prices are the gauge, then the Alabama – LSU battle this Saturday night in Tuscaloosa is the biggest game of this football season.

It was reported this week that the asking price for one ticket offered on StubHub was more than $10,000; and it was in the end zone. You would think no one would pay such a price… but this is Alabama and the winner could be the national champs.