The Trial That Wouldn't Start | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Trial That Wouldn't Start


Jackson Mayor Frank Melton appeared weak at a Dec. 30 press conference outlining the mayor's stance on fighting crime.

In the week leading up to Mayor Frank Melton's federal trial, the mayor's wavering health has become a factor in the possible postponement of his trial. U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan requested testimony from Melton's doctors, and decided Tuesday to delay his decision on Melton's Dec. 29 oral motion for a continuance until Wednesday morning.

"The court finds that it would benefit from an independent review of the medical record by a court-appointed expert," wrote Jordan, who appointed Dr. J. Murray Estess Jr. of Tupelo to the task.

The mayor and his city-paid police bodyguard Michael Recio, face three felony counts connected to the August 2006 demolition of the rental duplex, an incident first reported by the Jackson Free Press. Melton's former bodyguard Marcus Wright, a third party involved in the alleged demolition, pled guilty in October and is now working with authorities in Melton's and Recio's prosecution.

Both defendants face up to 25 years in prison for constitutional violations relating to the demolition, which Melton allegedly directed and teenagers with sledgehammers performed, as well as the mayor himself with a large stick.

Jordan ordered Melton to gather his doctors, professional opinions and medical records to present to the court last week. The judge noted that Melton had not asked for a continuance of the trial, and The Clarion-Ledger reported on Monday that Melton wanted to move forward with the proceedings. However, Melton's attorney, John Reeves, told reporters Tuesday that he had advised Melton to go ahead and agree to file the continuance.

Reeves gave no indication of Melton's personal feelings on the move, saying that "the mayor is accepting his attorney's judgment."

Jordan seeks to gauge whether or not a four-week trial, beginning Jan. 5, will "create substantial danger to Melton's life or health"; if his Nov. 17 and Dec. 22 hospitalizations will affect his ability to stand trial; determine to what extent a period of recuperation following the hospitalizations should be; if Melton is expected to recuperate enough that a later trial would present less of a health risk; and take into account possible accommodations "that would reduce the risk" to Melton's life or health, according to a Dec. 30 motion.

"Upon receiving the expert's opinions, the court will issue an order ruling on the motion which will, with the consent of Defendant Melton, disclose the medical basis for the motion," Jordan wrote.

If Melton wins the continuance, it will be the third delay in the stuttering trial since his July indictment.

Melton had already requested and received a continuance from Jordan one month after his indictment on the basis of the mayor's inability to find a permanent defense attorney, then another in November, while Melton's and Recio's lawyers pored over the prosecution's evidence.

Melton suffers chronic heart problems, is a longtime smoker and is allegedly a heavy drinker, according to court filings. Wright told the court that the mayor was intoxicated the night of the duplex demolition. Earlier this year, Melton said he had a defibrillator implanted in his chest.

The mayor's health problems proved timely in 2007, when he checked himself in to St. Dominic Hospital as he was about to be arrested for a bond violation. Melton lingered in the hospital, complaining of chest pains for days while his attorney, former Jackson Mayor Dale Danks, worked furiously to get the judge overseeing Melton's probation violation removed from his trial.

Danks succeeded in pushing Circuit Judge Tomie Green from the trial one day after Melton left the hospital and reported to deputies. Melton spent only one night in jail after avoiding arrest for almost a week.

See for trial updates.

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