Also see: Full JFP Melton Blog/Archive/Trial Documents
Federal prosecutors want to move the retrial of Mayor Frank Melton and his bodyguard Michael Recio to the Gulf Coast to avoid intense media scrutiny. In a motion (PDF) filed yesterday, the government argued that moving the trial to Gulfport would minimize the impact of the "all-encompassing" media coverage from the mayor's first federal trial, which ended in a hung jury on Feb. 24.
"The aim of the Court, on a re-trial, should be to minimize the risk that potential jurors have been so immersed in details of the prior proceedings that they could not help be influenced, despite their best efforts to set aside pre-conceived ideas," prosecutors argued.
Judge Dan Jordan indicated in an order (PDF) last week that he would consider relocating the trial to Gulfport, Natchez or Meridian and drawing a jury pool from divisions in the Southern District that have been less inundated with prior media coverage of the mayor. Defense attorneys object to moving the trial from Jackson, though, arguing that a move would place an unfair financial burden on the defendants and defense witnesses.
"Mr. Melton's right to defend himself would be jeopardized by moving the trial and thereby requiring witnesses of lesser economic means to travel and lodge at costs they cannot afford," Melton attorney John Reeves said in a Mar. 5 motion (PDF).
Prosecutors rejected the defense's arguments, pointing out that the defense's witnesses each testified for about 15 minutes and could all testify in one day. In response to Reeves' claim that a move would be an unfair financial burden for the mayor, prosecutors said that Melton's $120,000 salary means he is "not destitute." Reeves also argued that a relocation would interfere with Melton's cardiac rehabilitation, which Jordan ordered out of concern that the mayor's chronic heart disease could make him too weak to stand trial.
The mayor's health would not suffer from a move, either, prosecutors claimed. His health has already improved, they noted, citing the Jackson Free Press' recent interview with Melton, in which the mayor described his health as "remarkably much better." Melton would have several options for cardiac rehabilitation centers in Gulfport.
As a second option, prosecutors suggested moving the trial to Hattiesburg, where prior media exposure also appeared to be low. Prosecutors also requested that Jordan draw the jury pool from either the Gulfport or Hattiesburg divisions of the Southern District, even if the trial remains in Jackson.
Jordan has scheduled Melton and Recio's retrial for May 11. Melton and Recio stand accused of violating the Constitution's protection against unreasonable search and seizure in conjunction with the 2006 destruction of a duplex on Ridgeway Street.
I say again drop the charges against Recio and Wright and move the trial to the Gulf Coast and the Federal Government should be indicting Sarah O'Reilly Evans, Stephanie Parker Weaver, Frank Blunston and Charles Tillman for conspiracy. The Melton flunky brigade. Change not only the Mayor in this election but get rid of the City Council members Blunston,Tillman and Barrett and watch Jackson move ahead!
- Tony Davis