JACKSON Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith was the high-profile name listed in a three-count felony indictment today. But the other is an assistant district attorney who Smith’s attorney claims can help prove that the state attorney general’s office has ulterior motives in pursuing the Hinds County prosecutor.
An archive of reporting on controversies surrounding Hinds County district attorneys, present and past.
Smith’s attorney, Jim Waide III of Tupelo, argued in court documents Aug. 19 that the attorney general’s office had arrested Smith originally, on June 22, because at least two assistant attorneys general were worried that DA Smith was coming after them because they were prosecuting Christopher Butler in a wire-fraud/embezzlement case that did not involve Smith’s office.
“The Mississippi Attorney General arrested Smith and seeks to indict Smith not because of any good-faith belief Smith has committed any crime, but because two Assistant Attorney Generals feared that they were about to be indicted,” Waide wrote.
Waide attached an Aug. 18, 2016, affidavit by Assistant District Attorney Jamie McBride, who prosecutes crimes against children and adult sex crimes and reports directly to DA Smith. McBride says in the affidavit that he was friends with former ADAs Patrick Beasley and Shaun Yurtkuran who had worked for Smith early in his DA tenure, but had moved to the attorney general’s staff by 2015.
McBride, a 52-year-old Madison resident, wrote that a previously empaneled grand jury was meeting in June 2016. The week before, he said, Beasley called him. “Patrick was very concerned and asked me if I had any knowledge that my office was going to be seeking a criminal indictment against him. … I told him that I had no knowledge about him being criminally prosecuted,” McBride wrote.
Beasley told McBride that he feared being indicted “in connection with the State v. Christopher Butler case,” the fraud/embezzlement charges the State brought against Butler in January that did not have Smith’s blessing. In fact, Judge Melvin Priester Sr. had filed a Mississippi Bar complaint against Smith for disrupting a hearing in his courtroom in the State’s fraud case against Butler.
“I told Patrick that I had participated in a meeting earlier that day, that I believed I was aware of Robert’s concerns regarding the Butler case and that to my knowledge none of those concerns had anything to do with him,” McBride wrote in the affidavit. He said that Smith, Assistant District Attorney Ivon Johnson, another ADA and an investigator were also at that meeting.
On July 15, federal authorities charged Johnson with taking bribes to influence a case and later arrested Rev. Robert Henderson for offering Johnson a bribe. No indictments against members of the AG’s office are public, however, but sources tell the Jackson Free Press that Smith had issued a number of blank subpoenas against people he believed were pursuing and prosecuting Butler unjustly—but that cannot be confirmed or disproved as rumor because some documents are under seal.
Later filings indicated that Johnson had turned over secret recordings of meetings with DA Smith discussing Butler’s defense to the attorney general and the feds.
Butler has said in letters from the Hinds County jail, where he is under a $500,000 bond, that he has never met Smith, except in the courtroom. Other sources dispute that assertion, but have not produced evidence that they knew each other in other settings. Hinds County jail activity logs indicate that Smith visited Butler alone in the jail's 2nd-floor visitation area on May 9, 2016, and again on May 26, 2016.
McBride said he also got a call from ADA Yurtkuran the week before the grand jury who had “heard from a reliable source that our office was going to present evidence seeking an indictment against both he and Patrick. I told him that I had no knowledge that he, Shaun Yurtkuran, was being criminally prosecuted.” He also told Beasley the same thing during a second call. Neither the affidavit nor Waide’s motion indicated whether the two assistant AGs knew why Smith would try to prosecute them.
The fact that the attorney general did not originally indict Smith for allegedly helping Butler, as well as Darnell Dixon/Turner, raised legal eyebrows. Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. told the Jackson Free Press in August that if the AG’s office did arrest Smith to prevent his indictment of their attorneys, then it overstepped the state officer’s authority.
“I think they are trying to act peremptorily, and they don’t have the authority, is the problem,” Diaz said of Hood’s office.
“It seems like both sides are actually overstepping their authorities in different ways. The AG is trying to come in and prosecute the case, and Smith is going out of his way to help this defendant, if that’s what he is doing, so they both seem to be exceeding their roles and their authorities,” Diaz said, adding, "which is weird."
However, Hood’s office dropped the original six-count misdemeanor charges against Smith yesterday before the new three-count/two-felony grand-jury indictment dropped today.
“Without question the circumstances presented in this case involving charges of criminal conduct against a district attorney in the exercise of his duties as district attorney present a unique situation,” yesterday’s nolle prosequi order states, citing Smith’s application of a Mississippi statute saying he would only be answerable to the charges after a grand jury indicts him, a point that Smith and his attorney had repeatedly pointed out.
A primer on the old names surfacing in the 2016 case against Hinds DA Robert Smith.
Today, the grand jury answered, charging both Smith, 45, and McBride with two counts of conspiracy with Ivon Johnson and “others known and unknown” to commit the crime of Hindering Prosecution in the First Degree due to Smith’s efforts to prevent the prosecution, conviction and punishment of Butler in four different cases, a press statement said. The felony charges could bring up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 on each count.
The grand jury also indicted Smith on a misdemeanor count of violating Mississippi Code Section 97-11-3, which states that a DA shall not “consult, advise, counsel or defend” a person charged with a crime. If convicted of that charge, Smith faces removal from office and a fine of up to $500.
The State is accusing Smith of unlawfully consulting, advising and counseling Butler at the Hinds County jail outside the presence of the accused’s attorney, and by later advising Butler’s attorney in “various ways to attack the State’s pending case against Butler,” and for trying to get Butler out of jail. Those charges seem similar to the ones detailed in the AG's June 22 affidavit against Smith.
"As a former district attorney, I have the utmost respect for the work our district attorneys do every day to make Mississippi a safer place to live. They are my colleagues in the fight against crime,” Hood said in a statement today announcing Smith's new arrest. “So it brings me no pleasure to prosecute one of our own. But a Hinds County grand jury has indicted Mr. Smith for serious violations of the law that hamper the ability of our criminal justice system to do its job. My hope is that this case is resolved fairly and expeditiously for the sake of the citizens of Hinds County."
The State arrested both Smith and McBride Wednesday.
Darnell Dixon (who also goes by Darnell Turner) is not mentioned in today’s indictments.
Read more about the DA saga at jfp.ms/DAFiles. Email comments or information to [email protected].