JFP Melton Archive/Blog
Previous JFP coverage of Michael Taylor
The same morning federal prosecutors scored a major victory in the trial against Mayor Frank Melton and ex-bodyguard Michael Reciogaining the right to introduce testimony that Melton was drunk the night of the Ridgeway duplex demolitionthe defense lobbed an explosive charge that an FBI agent had improper contact with witness Michael Taylor over the court's break. The accusation that Agent Jimmy Foushee had talked to Taylor during a smoking break slowed down a trial that is already bogged down by procedural fights and finger-pointingand quickly fizzled into very little once defense attorneys put their witnesses before the judge.
Taylor, now 19, already testified Monday afternoon that he had lived with Melton in his home for a year and a half starting when he was 16a time when he did not attend high schooland that he had been riding along on the Mobile Command Unit the night of Aug. 26, 2006. Taylor, who is testifying for the prosecution in exchange for immunity for his activities that night when he was only 16, admitted to the court that he helped destroy the duplex with a sledgehammer after "Pops"as the young men called Meltontold him to get off the bus and take action.
At the end of Day 1 of testimony yesterday, Judge Dan Jordan had granted the prosecution the right to treat Taylor as a "hostile witness," meaning they can "lead" his testimony without constant objections from defense. Taylor has given a detailed account of what happened that night to a federal grand jury, and prosecutor Mark Blumberg is constantly referring to that testimony to jog Taylor's memory. In testimony both Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Taylor seemed nervous and seldom turned toward Melton and Recio to his right, even when asked to identify Melton in the courtroom. And although he was providing many potentially damning details about the night of the duplex demolition, he was not giving as many details as he had earlier testified to under oath, especially about the condition of the inside of the duplex.
A major reason Blumberg gave to the court for asking to treat him as a hostile witness was that Melton made contact with Taylor, who is now living with his mother, two weeks ago. Prosecutors argued that Melton may be trying to influence the testimony of a young man who called Melton a "father figure" in court by visiting him and taking presents for his infant son just before the trial began. Taylor is one of the members of the controversial "lawn crew," which also consisted of other young men present at Ridgeway Street, including Fredrica "Jermaine" Bruntston. Earlier in 2006, Melton had refused to turn over Bruntson and Taylor to Hinds County deputies even though they were wanted on an armed-robbery warrant. Later in 2006, weeks after the Ridgeway incident, Taylor was jailed for an armed carjacking, and gave Melton's address, 2 Carter's Grove, as his home address.
During his testimony Tuesday morning, Blumberg seemed better able to get Taylor to admit to the events he had testified to earlier, using the "hostile witness" approach.
The prosecution seems visibly concerned that Melton, or some of his associates, may try to influence Taylor's testimony during the trial, much as they alleged that Melton tried to Sunday when he showed up at the home of Evans Welch's elderly parents to serve his subpoena. Welch was the resident of 1305 Ridgeway Street and is being called by the defense, even though he has said repeatedly in interviews with the Jackson Free Press that he did not give Melton permission to destroy is home, as the defense is alleging.
After a mid-morning break Tuesday, and in the middle of Taylor's testimony about Melton's three-foot stick he is said to have used to help destroy the home,defense attorneys John Reeves and Cynthia Stewart returned and accused Agent Jimmy Foushee of having improper contact with Taylor over the break, out back on the dock in the rear of the building. They said that Melton, Recio, Melton's long-time friend Anthony Staffney and two WLBT journalists had seen Foushee talking to Taylor, even though he was in the middle of testifying.
Outside the presence of the jury, a visibly agitated Judge Jordan called Taylor to the stand and asked if he had spoken to Foushee. He denied speaking to him at all, but said he was out back. Then the judge called Foushee to the stand, who testified that Taylor had walked up and asked him where he could smoke, and Foushee escorted him through a "secure" area back to the dock. He said he only started to ask him "How is your son?" before realizing that it was inappropriate to have a conversation with the witness. He then told him they should not talk and continued standing there until they returned inside. Foushee said he had routinely escorted witnesses on behalf of the government, and that it wasn't an uncommon action.
Defense attorneys called Recio to the stand as well as two journalists from WLBT. All three of them essentially backed up Foushee's story, saying they saw the two standing there and Foushee speaking to Taylor for a short time. Then the defense called Staffney, who had been sitting in the courtroom the entire time with Terrance Womack and other friends of Melton, again irritating the judge because Staffney had already heard what the others had said. Staffney testified that he had seen them out there, and that they were talking to each other.
Blumberg also pointed out to the judge that Staffney was a long-time associate of Melton's. Staffney identified himself as a city employee working on the mayor's youth initiative. In the past, Melton has told the Jackson Free Press that Staffney is one of his closest friends, as was his now-deceased brother Joe Staffney; when Melton first came to Jackson, the two young men were heads of rival drug gangs. In 2006, weeks after being acquitted in a murder trial, Staffney went to work for Melton at the city. (See more here).
After Staffney left the stand, attorneys for the defense then asked the judge to look at security tape over the lunch break, which he said he would do. However, the player was not working and, after lunch, the judge said there was no indication that the agent and Taylor had discussed Taylor's testimony, which was what the judge's instruction had forbidden. Later in the afternoon after a break, the judge announced that he had seen the security tape. "It's in no way inconsistent with my prior ruling," he said, affirming his decision to deny the defense's efforts to remove Taylor as a witness.
The prosecution had started the day on a high note by convincing the judge that Taylor's testimony to the grand jury that Melton was drinking scotch and water from a 16.9-ounce soda bottle the night of the destruction should be allowed before the jury. In recent months, Jordan has ruled against allowing in testimony that Melton was drunk that night, having started drinking at a Saints game with the young men, and was more intent on having a good time than fighting crime. Today, however, Jordan decided that the need to show the jurors that Melton's intent might have been something other than fighting crime was acceptable"that this was not a legitimate undertaking, law-enforcement endeavor"even though the testimony that he was drunk, which is likely to be backed up by former bodyguard Marcus Wright and perhaps others, can also be inflammatory against him and Recio.
When asked before the grand jury on March 4, 2008, if Melton was drunk, Taylor said, "t had him. You know, the liquor had him." He had consumed the entire bottle, Taylor said. "It was gone."
The prosecution's argument angered Reeves, who compared allowing Melton's drunkenness into the record to the prosecution's argument not to put the duplex, and its alleged history as a drughouse, on trial. The judge rejected that argument.
After lunch, Michael Taylor resumed his testimony. The prosecution finished its questioning of Taylor by introducing his earlier testimony that Melton was intoxicated that evening.
During cross-examination Tuesday afternoon, defense attorney Reeves used Taylor to try to establish that the duplex as already a mess before Melton and his crew got there to destroy it. Taylor responded: "Like a dope fiend's house, like a crack-head house."
Before the trial, defense attorneys had submitted a motion asking that Taylor and other associates of Melton be allowed to testify that they had previously bought drugs in the duplex, prompting the prosecution to complain that they were trying to put the house on trial, and that it wasn't a defense to the alleged civil rights violations of Aug. 26, 2006. The defense had not mentioned in that motion that Taylor had helped destroy the duplex.
Also Tuesday afternoon, Taylor told Reeves: "I knew Evans Welch was a drug user. I told Melton this prior to the raid."
Welch's records indicate that he was a drug user, as well as a scrizophrenic, as first reported by the Jackson Free Press in 2006. Police did not find any illegal drugs in his home the night of the raid, although they did find a crack pipe. His police record does not show a history of drug sales.
Taylor told Reeves that the mayor had received a call before the raid, but could not say what it was about, due to hearsay objections. On re-direct, Blumberg established that the only call to Melton Taylor knew about was after the first visit to the house when they returned to Melton's home. Taylor told Reeves that he was not responsible for damage to the interior fixtures and appliances, but on re-direct, Blumberg drew out that Taylor had not watched the other boys' activities and could not know what damage they might have done. Reeves tried to get Taylor to talk about five previous visits he had taken with Melton to the duplex, but he was limited by Judge Jordan's order to not discuss specific instances of past activity at the house. On re-direct, Blumberg asked Taylor if Melton had been drinking on those past visits, and Taylor said, "No, he had not."
The young man also stated that he overheard Melton say to then-Police Chief Shirlene Anderson: "When are you going to learn that I run this city?" This statement is similar to one Melton made to the Jackson Free Press on an April 2006 ride-along: "Donna, you know what? I run Jackson.I do it in a weird way, but I run Jackson." The prosecution is expected to call Anderson in upcoming days.
The prosecution also got Taylor to admit that on the second trip to the house that night, when more damage was done, Taylor never heard Recio say not to participate in the destruction, as he testified Monday that Recio did on the first outing that night.
Around 3 p.m., the prosecution called Marcus Wright, Melton's former bodyguard, who has immunity to testify against the other two men.
I have a question? Why haven't Weaver been indicted for her role in the illegal burning on the houses on Congo Street? Frank Blunston also knew about the house on Ridgeway and the burning of he houses on Congo St. Why hasn't he been indicted? Sara O'Reilly Evans knew about the destruction to the house on Ridgeway and she even sent one of the attorneys from her office to Congo Street when the house was being burned down. Why haven't she been indicted? Why did the then Arson investigator and now the Fire Chief who was on the scene of the illegal burning of the houses arrest and charge the Mayor with arson or conspiracy to comitt arson he was a sworn police officer?
The issue is very simple Melto did not act along nor did he have a habit of keeping his mouth shut when he was doing something illegal. The people all had the duty to notify the proper authorities of the violations of the law especially the Fire Chief and the City Attorney. We should also look Frank Blunston role in not reporting these incidents to the authorities and he was elect to protect and serve the people of Jackson. All of these people should be indicted and exposed or these issues will continue to allowed in the City of Jackson.
- Tony Davis