The second federal civil rights trial of Mayor Frank Melton and bodyguard Michael Recio will take place in Jackson, with a jury called from the Gulf Coast, a federal judge ruled yesterday. Melton and Recio's first trial for the 2006 demolition of a Ridgeway Street duplex ended in a hung jury on Feb. 24.
In an order (PDF) issued yesterday, Southern District Judge Dan Jordan agreed with prosecutors that the jury should come from the Gulf Coast, to limit the effects of "non-stop coverage" of the first federal trial by Jackson media. During jury selection, a majority of potential jurors who said that they had no prior knowledge of the mayor or his case were from the Southern District's Southern Division, which covers the Coast.
"A jury from the Southern Division would be more likely to...be fair to all parties," Jordan stated.
In addition, Jordan ruled that jury selection would take place at the federal courthouse in Gulfport, to minimize the travel expenses of potential jurors. He recognized that attending voir dire questioning of potential jurors would add to the defendants' expenses but pointed out that he could have moved the entire trial.
"The Court finds that the district as a whole has been tainted, leaving it within the Court's discretion to transfer the trial to a single division within the district," Jordan said.
The judge agreed with the defense, however that the trial should be held in Jackson for financial concerns and convenience. Nearly all the witnesses from the first federal trial live in Jackson, he noted, and travel expenses for a trial in Gulfport would be considerable. Both Melton and Recio have indicated that those expenses would be a hardship for them. Jordan also agreed with Melton attorney John Reeves that it would be "prudent" for the mayor to continue his cardiac rehabilitation with his regular, Jackson-based doctors.
Jordan did not say whether he would sequester the second federal jury. He noted, however, that the first federal trial, in which jurors were not sequestered, ended in a mistrial, with jurors announcing a deadlock a few hours into their deliberation. He also left open the possibility of further action, saying, "The Court recognizes certain challenges addressed in the Government's response, but drawing a jury from the Southern Division will address many of those concerns, and other measures exist to protect the integrity of the trial."
Melton and Recio's retrial is scheduled to begin May 11.