UPDATED: Feds Want Melton Gun Charge Dropped | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

UPDATED: Feds Want Melton Gun Charge Dropped


Mayor Frank Melton has talked to the Jackson Free Press about many issues for this series, including his health.

Also see: Full JFP Melton Blog/Archive/Trial

Federal prosecutors plan to drop one of the three charges against Mayor Frank Melton and his former bodyguard Michael Recio, according to reports by WAPT and WLBT. Prosecutor Mark Blumberg reportedly told Jordan at a teleconference yesterday that the government intends to request the dismissal of a gun charge against Melton and Recio. Prosecutors must file a motion to dismiss the charge to make its removal official.

After the conference, Jordan filed the final version of a preliminary questionnaire (PDF) that he will send to potential jurors. While describing the other two remaining counts against Melton and Recio--conspiracy against rights and the deprivation of rights--the questionnaire omits the gun charge. Melton and Recio are on trial for their roles in the 2006 destruction of a Ridgeway Street duplex. The two were acquitted on state charges in 2007, and their first federal trial for the incident ended in a hung jury on Feb. 24. Their re-trial begins May 11.

Witnesses in the federal trial gave no indication that either Melton or Recio used a firearm during the incident. Marcus Wright, Melton's other former bodyguard and his former co-defendant, testified as part of a plea deal that he cleared the Ridgeway house at gunpoint.

The dropped gun charge is not the only victory for Melton in recent days. On Mar. 30, Jordan granted Melton's request to enlarge the pool of potential jurors in his re-trial, reversing an earlier decision that limited the pool to the Gulf Coast. Jordan will draw potential jurors from the entire Southern District of Missisippi, which encompasses 45 counties in the southern half of the state.

Federal prosecutors had argued in favor of narrowing the pool. Jurors from the Southern Division of the District had the least exposure to media coverage of the mayor's previous trials, they argued.

Melton's attorney John Reeves objected to the smaller pool, however, and filed a motion (PDF) Mar. 11 asking Jordan to reconsider his initial decision. In that motion, Reeves argued that a jury from the Gulf Coast would be disproportionately white and not representative of Melton's home district.

In his order (PDF) issued Monday, Jordan dismissed Reeves' race-based argument but conceded that the mere possibility of media exposure was not enough to justify the smaller jury pool.

"The decision to pull from the Southern Division really becomes one of convenience, which is not a proper consideration," Jordan wrote.

Jordan reversed his prior decision to hold juror questioning in Gulfport but reserved the right to move that portion of the trial elsewhere in the Southern District based on the distribution of potential jurors.

Jordan also noted that he is taking other steps to cull biased jurors by sending out a large number of juror questionnaires, which ask potential jurors for their attitudes toward law enforcement and drugs and quizzes them about any prior knowledge they may have of Melton, Recio and their case.

The final questionnaire omits a number of questions proposed by the prosecution, which focused on prospective jurors' beliefs about race and class discrimination. Defense attorneys objected to the questions on the grounds that they injected those issues into the case and sought to make a point before the trial began.

Recio's Money Woes
Michael Recio can no longer afford the high price of a federal trial, according to his attorney Cynthia Stewart. Stewart filed a motion (PDF) yesterday asking that the court appoint her as Recio's public defender, transferring the cost of Recio's representation to the federal government.

Recio's base salary as a JPD officer on a leave of absence is not enough to cover his $4,548 in monthly expenses, Stewart said. According to his attorney, Recio makes $2,168 per month, or $26,016 yearly. To receive court-appointed representation, Recio must prove that he is indigent by submitting a detailed financial report. According to Dennis Joiner, Federal Public Defender for Mississippi, Judge Jordan could find Recio indigent despite his salary from the city.

"In evaluating a married person and his family, you have to make some kind of allocation for family living expenses," Joiner said.

Recio is married, with three children. Stewart's estimate of his monthly expenses did not include food, clothing and medical care, she said. If Jordan finds Recio indigent, he can appoint a public defender at his discretion. Joiner said that the judge can choose to retain Stewart, who is on a panel of approved attorneys for the Southern District.

"In my opinion, it would not only be proper; it would be preferred," Joiner said. "It would be beneficial to everybody to have continuity of representation."

A new attorney for Recio would have to spend considerable time reviewing the case and previous trial, further adding to the government's expenses, Joiner said. Judge Jordan has not ruled on Stewart's motion.

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