JFP Exclusive: Meet Witness Stephen Stamboulieh | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

JFP Exclusive: Meet Witness Stephen Stamboulieh

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See an archive of JFP stories and blogging on Frank Melton

Stephen Stamboulieh, 28, looks every bit the part of an ordinary grad student. The only thing that makes him unusual is that until Mayor Frank Melton copped a plea to three misdemeanors, Stamboulieh was set to be the star witness in the attorney general's felony case against Melton.

Stamboulieh was born in Houston, but his family moved to Madison when he was 12. He got his undergraduate degree from Southern Miss, and he's now in his second year at Mississippi College School of Law. He is consumed by school, taking a full class load and summer school, too, so he can graduate in only another year. He has special interests in immigration law and firearms law.

I guess we can start with why you were called to testify. What did you see?
When he came to speak at that meeting—

That was a meeting of the Young Democrats?
Yeah, I just went up there because I had heard him speak in high school. He came and spoke to our class. I also saw him speak to the Jackson Association of Realtors. There's something about him that I really like. He doesn't mince his words. He just says—there's nothing filtered. He just says it. I appreciate that in a politician.

Can I ask if you voted for him?
I was not a resident of Hinds County at that time. I actually lived in Madison.

Did you consider yourself a supporter?
Oh yeah. I was a pretty hardcore Melton supporter. At that Realtors' meeting, I told a couple of people, "I would follow that man anywhere." He's really a very charismatic person.

So back to the meeting.
I was really excited to see him. Except, every time he moved—he had this suit. He had a jacket on, and it was buttoned. He was walking around, and every time he would turn, the suit would open up. When he turned, I saw the butt of his gun. Then I saw—you can tell if someone's carrying in a shoulder holster, because if the jacket's tight enough, you're going to see an imprint.

But you saw the gun itself?
I saw the butt of the gun itself. Enough so that I could probably tell you what kind it was.

What kind was it?
I think it was a Glock or a SIG. I've seen pictures of Melton carrying guns. I've never looked to see what kind he carries. But I actually saw the gun. It's not like it could have been a phone, and I saw this little bit of a thing sticking out. I'm positive. I saw his gun.

I heard him talk on the radio last night, and he said, "I did not carry a weapon onto that campus. I took it out and put it in my car." Then what was it? What did I see? He said before, "I don't carry one gun on the plane, I carry two." Well, maybe he put one weapon in his car. Which one was it?

He's almost like a lawyer, where he'll say, "I didn't shred those documents." But he ripped them up with his hands. So technically, he didn't shred them, he tore them.

So maybe he did put a weapon in his car.

Do you believe (Det. Michael) Recio when he says that he saw Melton put his gun in the car?
No. Not at all.

You know that you saw a gun.
I know I did.

I understand that you talked to him about it.
I asked him a question: "I have a permit. Why can't I carry a gun on campus?"

He said, "Well, that's a federal law."

I said, "Actually, you're wrong. It's a state law."

Then he called me "son" and just blew me off. Then he started asking about crime, so I asked him: "Wouldn't it make sense to arm all the law-abiding citizens and let them carry everywhere they can legally carry? Wouldn't that decrease crime?" Because an armed society is going to decrease crime—at least that's what the statistics show.

He said, "Son, there's enough guns on the streets, and only the police should carry guns."

But he's not a member of the police.
Well, we know that. I'm not a cop, either.

Did he deny that he was carrying a weapon?
No. He never said he wasn't carrying a gun. In hindsight, after everything that happened, I wish I had asked him to show me, but I never thought anyone would care. This was Frank Melton, and he's going to do what he wants. And nobody would care.

So what happened next? You wrote the attorney general?
I remember filling out some Web form. I can't remember who I sent it to. It was a couple of days later. Basically, I was just asking what statute he can carry under. I honestly wanted to know. One of the things I'm very interested in is firearms laws. I'm a law student. What gives him the authority to carry a gun? Is it a letter that says his life is in danger?

Why was it important to you?
I'm not a big fan of people breaking the law. That's the main thing. I don't have anything against Frank other than the fact that he's breaking the law. He continues to do so, and everyone's too scared to do anything about it. I'm not. I'm not afraid of him. I don't think he is an evil person.

So you just wanted to find out. What happened then? How did it lead to this craziness?
I got a phone call (sometime in August) from an AG investigator. He said he'd like to meet with me and hear about what I saw. He seemed like he wanted to know if I had an axe to grind or whether I was really telling the truth. I took a lie detector test for him.

What was that like?
It was really weird. I was really nervous. I had never taken one before. Have you?

No.
It'll really freak you out. You can't see the guy because he's sitting behind you. You've got a big strap around you and these things on your fingers to measure your sweat, and another thing to measure your heart rate. He asks you questions, and you answer "yes" or "no," and that's it. You can't move. You can't shake your head. Don't say anything but "yes" or "no."

At the very end, he wrote down some numbers and asked me to circle one of them. I circled number three. He told me he was going to ask me questions, and when he asked me about number three, I was supposed to lie and say "no," I had not circled it. He went through the numbers, and when he came to number three, I lied. At the very end, he showed me my results.

He said, "Here's where I asked you about Melton wearing a gun. You passed. Here's where I asked you if you were trying to be deceitful. You passed. Here's where I asked you if you wrote the number three. You failed."

On the other hand, people put way too much faith in lie detector tests. If you put that information in front of a jury, they're going to take the lie detector test's word.

So you understand why it's not admissible?
Yes. And I wasn't going to come out and say anything. I wasn't under a gag order. I chose not to say anything because I'm for a fair trial. If something's going to be unfairly prejudicial to (Melton), I'm not going to say anything. I could have gone to the press immediately after it happened and talked about everything that happened. But everyone who called me, I told them I wasn't interested in talking.

How early did you realize that this was going to turn into a scandal? Did you have an inkling that they were going to bring down these indictments?
No, I had no clue. On Sept. 15, when the indictments for the house came down, I was having coffee with my friends. They said that Melton had been indicted. "Indicted on what?" I asked. They said he was indicted for the house, and for carrying a gun in the park, and for carrying a gun on a school campus. And I thought, "Son of a bitch. I need to go home."

I felt very vulnerable. Sometimes I still feel vulnerable at the school, because it's not a very secure school.

You felt exposed.
Very. All these people started coming up to me asking if I knew who had turned (Melton) in. If it was me. Everyone knows I like guns. Anyone who has firearms questions at the school comes to talk to me about it, asking which gun they should buy.

Did you ever fear for your safety during all of this?
There were times when I felt like a target.

Why? Was it a feeling in the air, or things people said to you?
No one really said anything to me. No one threatened me. But there is some kind of nervous energy around being a witness against Frank Melton. I'm not scared of him, but should I be scared of someone else? It's not like (Melton) is going to come and hurt me, but there's a lot of people who like him in Jackson, no matter what he does. There will always be people who like him.

Take Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Some people love them, and some people hate them. No matter what they do, or how many lies they tell, people are either going to love them or hate them.

So you see Melton as a polarizing figure in the same way?
Yes.

Did you approve of the plea agreement?
It's really not for me to say. Either way—if he got convicted or acquitted—I was doing my part. I was telling the truth. Then it becomes the jury's decision.

I'm glad I didn't have to testify. It's a lot of weight off my shoulders, because then my face isn't everywhere. It's better not to have to go through that.

The thing that really pissed me off was when he went on TV afterward and said he was not carrying a weapon at the school, because I feel like he's calling me a liar.

Another thing that really bothers me is if you don't see something, that doesn't mean it's not there. That's my big problem.

Other people at the law school, especially Mark Lyon, said they never saw a weapon.
Right. … Just because you don't see something doesn't mean it's not there.

Why do you think Lyon was so vocal about it?
I don't know. People could say the same thing about me. The reason why is that I saw what I saw. He's vocal because he didn't see it, but just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there, which is why people carry concealed.

I have a question for you: Am I armed?

I have no idea.
So you don't see anything?

I don't see any indications.
So I'm not armed.

As far as I know, you're not.
OK. That's all I'm going to say.

So I'm assuming that you're armed?
I am. Do you see what I'm saying?

Not exactly.
Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean I don't have it.

But if I had seen it, then I would know.
You would. OK, where is it? (Stamboulieh takes off his jacket.)

On your right side?
Yep. (Stamboulieh lifts his sweater and reveals a hand gun holstered on his right hip.)

So not seeing the weapon is not proof that there is no weapon.
Right, and I wanted to prove that.

Is it safe to say you're a gun enthusiast?
Sure. Better than a gun nut, as Mr. Lyon likes to call me.

Are you a member of the National Rifle Association?
Yeah.

I assume you own weapons.
I do.

How many do you own?
I'd prefer not to answer that. But I own handguns, hunting rifles, shotguns.

So you're certainly not anti-gun.
No. I don't think it was wrong, per se, for (Melton) to have a gun at the school had he been authorized to carry at the school. Interestingly enough, an hour after the plea deal came out, there was an accident, a shooting at Hinds Community College. The gun just went off, which is what people always say. People that aren't trained how to use (guns) can have accidents with them a lot easier than people who are trained to use them. Accidents can occur with people that have been trained, too.

Does it concern you that Melton appears to have no firearms training?
Just from my observations of him, yeah, it bothers me a little. When I'm at the range, or I'm home holstering a gun to go somewhere, you keep your finger off the trigger. Period. In pictures of him holding that shotgun, his finger is inside the trigger guard. You're asking for something to happen. When that happens, most people will say, "The gun went off." No, you pulled the trigger.
By accident.

But the gun is going to go off because that's what guns do. So it's a little worrisome. He has two bodyguards. If I was the mayor and had two bodyguards, and I wasn't allowed to carry certain places, I sure as hell wouldn't carry at those places.

I don't have a bodyguard, and I go to school. I do not carry a weapon to school.

You knew that rule because you go to the school and you just know the rules?
I study firearms laws.

So that one was clear to you?
Very clear. When I corrected him and said it was a state law, not a federal law—it used to be a federal law. The Gun-Free Schools Act. It was repealed by a U.S. Supreme Court decision back in 1995, I think.

When was the state law passed?
I think the concealed weapons law was passed in 1989. I'm not sure when the exception of not being able to carry on educational property was passed. I didn't have my permit then because I was 11.

You seemed to indicate before that you're not a Democrat yourself.
I'm not a Democrat.

Are you a Republican?
I'm not a Republican. I'm definitely more conservative than liberal, but I'm more libertarian than anything. I believe in a minimalist government. I voted for the libertarian candidate Harold White who was running against Trent Lott. I voted against Trent Lott, because I knew he was going to win, but at the same time, I don't know what these people are doing for us. I actually voted Democrat in the last governor's election.

There's no shame in voting against Haley Barbour.
Well, it goes against everything I believe as far as the 2nd Amendment goes. I believe that's one of the most important amendments we have. That secures all our other amendments. Look at what happened after Katrina. All people had were their firearms to defend themselves, and then the government came and took them.

So what did you think of Mr. Melton's short-lived effort to ban gun shows?
I understand what he's trying to do, but he's going about it the wrong way. To say that he's going to ban gun shows demonstrates that he has no trust in the citizens of Jackson. If you disarm people, you show no trust in them.

I think everyone who is law-abiding should be armed. I think it would cut down on crime.

What was it like being the star witness in such an important case?
It definitely made me nervous. Luckily, it wasn't until the last couple weeks that my name came out. I had butterflies the night before, but that morning I was very calm. I have a very clean past. I've never been arrested or convicted for anything. I don't get in fights. I don't drink and drive. There's so many things that I don't do. I'm sure the defense hated the fact that I wasn't one of those witnesses they can find a lot of stuff on.

You didn't feel you had anything to hide.
I don't have anything to hide. I have the truth: You were carrying a gun under your left arm. I saw it. I'm sorry I didn't ask you to take it out so I could examine the serial number, to see what model it was, whether it was really a Glock.

Did you read (Melton attorney) Dale Danks' comments about what "he would have done" to you in The Clarion-Ledger?
Yes. He's the one who wimped out and took a plea, not me. I didn't back down.

What would you say to Melton supporters who argue that this was a political witch hunt cooked up by the AG and the DA?
I don't work for either of them. … When I went on the Kim Wade Show, I called out the AG and Peterson because I wanted to know why nothing had been done about this. Nobody seemed to care. I don't personally have a problem with Jim Hood or Faye Peterson. They don't even know who I am. They would not be able to put a face to my name.

I think we have an abysmal records of prosecutions in this state because we don't have any jail space. And we have judges that are moving too slow. I'm not saying I'm running for DA or anything, because that would drive me nuts.

There are no easy answers?
No, not at all. I'm glad I don't have to solve any of these problems. I'm going to law school; I'm trying to get out of there fast so I can go to work and make some money. I have a lot of loans. And guns are expensive, man. I just bought a new deer rifle.

They are expensive.
I went to the gun range right after the trial. I went home, changed out of my suit, ate a little something and then went to the gun range to shoot my new thirty-ought-six.

How is it?
Beautiful. It's very accurate.

Did that take some of the tension out?
Oh yeah. It's very stress relieving. I spent about an hour and a half out there. So I went from the gun trial right to the range.

Are you looking forward to returning to ordinary life now?
Very much so.

Previous Comments

ID
80720
Comment

Check out our exclusive cover story this week. ;-) Also, all, note that the issue is going up a day early due to Thanksgiving. Everything should be up by the end of the day.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-11-21T16:07:36-06:00
ID
80721
Comment

Great interview. I already read the forms Stephen had filled out on the internet, but this interview really brings things into persepctive. I really looked forward to sitting down and reading this interview, and it was everything I'd hoped it would be. I don't believe Recio's statement either. I guess, it's been going on for years - police lying on the stand.

Author
CodeRed
Date
2006-11-21T21:55:21-06:00
ID
80722
Comment

how very interesting

Author
casey
Date
2006-11-22T03:28:09-06:00
ID
80723
Comment

Another job well done by JFP staffer Brian Johnson. And thank you also to Stephen Stamboulieh for being your own person and not cowering down to the self proclaimed "Ultimate Authority" Frank Melton. Even though Melton and his attorney proclaim a slight victory, they were not able to overwhelm this young man with all of their [email protected]#$&. I hope that more people are as resilent in their stand for what is right. Melton hides behind the statement that his heart is in the right place, but then again so does Osama Bin Laden. The JFP always seems to ask the questions that the public is thinking about. The other weaker competition ie the CL prefers to ask toe lighthearted questions or simply not ask anything at all. You can believe that Melton is not at all at peace about things now. He STILL has to face DA Peterson. She will not be so easy to accomodate as AG Hood was. I am still somewhat disappointed in Hood in that he made such a strong assertion that he had Melton by the cahoonas and then settled for a plea. The AG is the number one authority on law for the state. If he felt that he had Melton, he should have stayed the course.

Author
lance
Date
2006-11-22T10:03:18-06:00
ID
80724
Comment

If anyone wants to hear more from Stephen, he'll be interviewed this evening at 9:40 p.m. on NRA News.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-11-22T12:04:33-06:00
ID
80725
Comment

You either sand up for something or you fall down for everything. This young man is definitely one to be admired when all of the odds were truly against him. He was able to say what he saw and voice what he heard. Brain Johnson did a beautiful job in his interview with Stephen Stamboulieh. The queswtions were thought provoking but not leading or invasive. I know that Stephen felt relieved that he did not have to testify; however, it would have been a teachable moment in court for this community to see just one person who cared about the man (Melton) as a person but, loves and makes a practice of being a law abiding citizen. My hat goes off to Stephen Stamboulieh! "Son" is such a put down and a pi$$ off when fm is talking to young adults. Melton uses this term to talk down to others. He also uses "yesmam" in that same manner. He is definitely full of it. Melton has five other felony charges to face so I don't think that he needs to do anything else to add to his list.

Author
justjess
Date
2006-11-27T13:13:38-06:00
ID
80726
Comment

"Brain Johnson." I like it. ;-) Your point about Mr. Melton condescending to adult men is an interesting and important one, and one that I discussed with him. I don't know if I've published that conversation, yet, but I will. There is more to come.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-11-27T13:51:16-06:00

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