By David Kenney (April 26, 2007)
Hinds County jurors delivered not-guilty verdicts across the board for Jackson Mayor Frank Melton and his bodyguards Marcus Wright and Michael Recio. The panel delivered the verdicts shortly after 7:00 Thursday evening, after more than six hours of deliberations.
The verdicts cleared the mayor and his bodyguards of charges of conspiracy, malicious mischief, and house burglary in the destruction of a duplex on Ridgeway Street in August of last year.
A conviction would have forced Melton to step down as mayor. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief as the not-guilty verdicts were read in court. He then got hugs of congratulations from family members, including his wife and son, and a throng of supporters. Melton made no comment to the media as he left the courthouse.
"The prosecution did not prove the case," said Merrida Coxwell, one of Melton's attorneys. "They may have over-charged in this case. It may have been their own fault."
Dale Danks, the mayor's lead attorney, spoke briefly as he walked from the courthouse.
"While certain steps may have been taken that perhaps could have been taken a little differently have occurred, that's no reason to find three good outstanding indivduals to be guilty of something of that nature," he said.
In the end, jurors sided with the mayor, who from the beginning maintained the Ridgeway duplex was a drug haven.
After reading the verdict, Judge Joe Webster gave Melton stern directions on how to deal with nuisance properties in the future, warning him that not following the law could land him back in the same place.
"I think (Melton has) learned his lesson," Danks said. "I know he has. He needs to listen to solid advice and counsel and talk to people before he does something," Danks said.
Danks, a former Jackson mayor himself who has represented Melton in numerous cases at all levels in the past year, says Melton is tired, and after a heart surgery earlier this year, this trial took another emotional toll on the leader of the capital city.
"He's got a family to think about," Danks said. "He's got a city to think about. He took an oath to run the city and rid this city of crime. He's been hampered by having to do that by having restrictions and probation requirements and other issues that I won't go into at this moment, and hopefully this will be a big load off his back, and that you will see a different person now."