Headlines – 8/19/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 19, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – August 19, 2005

  From the 8/19/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

Former JP found guilty, attorney promises appeal
By Billy Davis

A Panola County circuit jury has found John Poynor Sr. guilty of having sex with a teenage girl.

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Poynor, 61, faces a minimum 30-year sentence for statutory rape after the jury returned a guilty verdict Wednesday afternoon at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville.

The girl, who is now 16, testified that Poynor had sex with her numerous times over a four-year period.

The jury also found Poynor guilty of fondling a second girl, a younger sister of the first victim. That count brings a two-year minimum sentence.

A second charge of statutory rape, which came from accusations made by a third sister, was tossed out by Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker due to conflicting testimony from the girl.

After Circuit Clerk Joe Reid read the jury’s verdict, Poynor’s defense attorney, Jay Westfaul, announced plans to appeal the verdict and requested bond for his client.

Poynor, a former Beat 3 justice of the peace for Panola County, was taken into custody at the conclusion of the trial but, according to Westfaul, was resting at home on Thursday.

"Mr. Poynor is in poor health and is resting at home under the care of family members and medical personnel," Westfaul said in a statement faxed to The Panolian Thursday afternoon.

Westfaul also confirmed Thursday that he is appealing Poynor’s conviction to the state Supreme Court.

The jury of seven men and six women returned the verdict after about three and a half hours of deliberation, breaking only for an hour-long noon lunch after they were handed the case about 10:30 Wednesday morning.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly prosecuted the state’s case against Poynor.

Witnesses for the state included the three sisters and their mother, Oxford pediatrician Tanya King, who examined the sisters, and Department of Human Services caseworker Bonnie Jean Rogers, who interviewed them.

The Oxford doctor hauled a laptop into the courtroom during her testimony, later loading a disc into the computer and showing jurors the girls’ recorded physical exams.

On the witness stand, King told Kelly she "absolutely" believed the physical exams showed evidence of sex over a long period of time.

"No matter how distasteful that was for some of you, that was evidence, evidence of what happened to these children," Kelly told the jurors.

To dispute the doctor’s testimony, Westfaul subpoenaed two teenage boys on behalf of Poynor, both boys testifying Monday that they had a sexual history with one of the girls.

The girl later testified, however, that she had dated the two boys but never had sex with them.

The second count against Poynor, the fondling charge, involved a four-wheeler ride he took last year with one of the sisters. He sat on the back of the ATV while the girl drove.

The girl testified that Poynor touched her inappropriately while she drove.

While Poynor acknowledged in court that he rode with the girl, he testified that he snatched at the girl’s clothes with one hand – and reached for the handlebars with the other hand – when she was about to wreck and topple the ATV.

"The reason I grabbed her was that we were were fixin’ to turn over," Poynor testified on Tuesday.
Prior to the start of the trial, Westfaul told The Panolian the charges against his client were "a big black lie" and he would walk free.

Pre-trial court documents showed the defense’s strategy: witnesses who allegedly were told by the mother that she planned to get money from Poynor.
One of the defense witnesses, Linda Lee, began to testify about her talks with the mother until Kelly objected to the testimony as "hearsay."

Baker sustained the objection from Kelly, thereby sinking the bedrock of Westfaul’s strategy for the trial.

Before her testimony was cut short, Lee said she lived near the mother in Batesville. The girls’ mother had approached her about Poynor’s activities with her own daughters, Lee said, and asked her if she would testify in court on her behalf.

The jury did get a hint of the defense’s strategy, however, when the girls’ mother acknowledged that she was shopping a civil suit against Poynor to attorneys.

Court testimony throughout the three-day trial pointed to possible parental neglect on behalf of the mother, an impression that Kelly acknowledged in his closing arguments.

Kelly implored the jury to judge the merits of the case without judging the bad actions of the girls’ mother, namely her relationship with Poynor.

"You’ve probably been sitting there thinking something’s going to go wrong, and something did go wrong, and that’s what this case is all about," Kelly told the jurors.

The mother and her daughters had lived with Poynor off and on since 1999, at times renting from him and at other times living with him.

During a month-long stay in Illinois, the girls reportedly told the mother about Poynor’s sexual actions, and she sought court action against him in Illinois.

The next month, however, the mother and daughters moved back into Poynor’s home when they returned to Panola County.

Poynor also testified that he gave the mother $100 to help with a car payment the same day Sheriff’s Investigator Mark Whitten stopped by his radiator shop to ask him to come to the sheriff’s department.

At the sheriff’s department, Poynor said he first learned of the felony charges filed against him.

Voting machines coming with supervisors’ blessing
By Billy Davis

Panola County voters will use the Diebold brand voting machines beginning in 2006 after county supervisors backed the model over other options.

The state secretary of state’s office first chose the Diebold model over other similar electronic machines, and today was the deadline for counties to either sign on with the state agency or "opt out" and choose another brand.

Secretary of State Eric Clark is counting on a large number of counties to participate so the state agency can buy the machines at a bulk rate.

Clark has reportedly secured federal funding to purchase 5,164 Diebold machines for the state’s 82 counties, which means counties who join will get help in purchasing the equipment.

Counties who opt out will reportedly have to choose another qualified machine – and find the money to buy it – without the help of Clark’s office.

The updated voting machines are required by federal law per the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

Panola County voters currently cast their vote with a paper ballot, using a pencil to fill in an oval that is later scanned and tabulated by computer.

The traditional paper ballots will be used in the November special election for sheriff, most likely the last election in the county to utilize them.

Circuit Clerk Joe Reid said the county needs 100 Diebold machines, of which the state will pay for 41 and the county will purchase 59 more.

The machines cost $2,850 each, Reid said, which will cost the county $116,850 for its Diebold purchase.

"That number goes up and down everyday because we don’t know how many counties will opt in," Reid said.

Panola County will be among 66 Mississippi counties to choose the Diebold brand voting machines, Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins said Thursday.

Perkins said he and other supervisors personally looked at several models and decided to go with the secretary of state’s recommendation.

While the Diebold deal has caused a controversy across the state, namely over the lack of a paper trial, Panola supervisors discussed the matter briefly and apparently voted to "opt in" at their August 8 "second Monday" meeting.

Although the supervisors’ discussion seemed more like bantering than board talk headed toward a vote, Perkins said the board voted for the secretary of state’s recommendation.

Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock said the supervisors voted 5-0 to back the secretary of state’s Voting System Procurement, the Diebold deal.

Reid said he was worried the new technology would chase off loyal poll workers, who are often middle-aged and could be intimidated by training on the newer machines.

Asked why he didn’t share his reservations about the Diebold machine with the supervisors, Reid said he had told them his opinion in private conversations.

"I talked to to them, just not at a public meeting," Reid said. "I told them the secretary of state thinks this is a ‘great day for Mississippi,’ but we (circuit clerks) aren’t so sure."

SP nixes non-academic perks
By Rupert Howell

There will be no grades given for non-academic reasons according to South Panola Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer. There will also not be extended school programs at South Panola High School.

Shaffer said giving grades for non-academic reasons such as bringing extra supplies or canned food for a charity drive will no longer be continued.

In his first year as this district’s superintendent, Shaffer also said that under achievers have gotten used to a system that allows them go to school a couple of extra weeks during the summer to pass a course.

Summer school this year will involve an investment on the part of the student and parents and more than two weeks of the summer vacation.


     Batesville firefighter Joey Bridges pours oil absorbent in front of a wrecked Chevrolet Cavalier at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Armstrong Street Wednesday afternoon. A second car was involved in the accident, and several passengers from both vehicles were transported to Tri-Lakes Medical Center with injuries.
Inmate help missed as changes made at jail
By Billy Davis
and John Howell Sr.

Only two of Panola County’s 47 state inmates are screened by the state to perform trusty work in the community, county officials have said.

County Administrator David Chandler and interim jail administrator Clint Roberson confirmed the apparent lack of classified trusties in separate interviews this week.

Roberson is serving as interim jail administrator after Jail Administrator Hugh Wayne "Shot" Bright was put on administrative leave during a state investigation into the problem.

The Miss. Department of Corrections is investigating the lack of unclassified inmates at the David M. Bryan Justice Complex, which is located north of Batesville along Hwy. 35.

The state attorney general’s office is also at work in Panola County, though its investigation may or may not be related to that of MDOC.

Charles West, a former deputy sheriff and drug task force member, states in a letter to the editor published in today’s newspaper that he "initiated an investigation" into alleged wrongdoing in the county.

Neither state agency has made any public statements about their investigation nor their findings so far.

The state investigators arrived at the Justice Complex last Thursday, August 11, making their work public.

Bright was placed on leave that same day.

The state inmates were certified as trusties but not classified for the county’s work program, Bright told The Panolian earlier this week.

For state inmates at the Justice Complex who may qualify as trusties, MDOC is making plans to screen them at a correctional facility in Rankin County, Roberson said.

All state inmates in Mississippi are classified at MDOC’s Central Mississippi Correction Facility in Rankin County, said Roberson, who was formerly a MDOC probation and parole officer.

"They have to be at the top (level of classification) to work out in the community," Roberson said.

Criteria include no violation of rules within the custodial facility, no sex offenses, no violent offenses and indication of positive change in past work record if previously classified at another level, he said. Inmates who meet those criteria can work in the

Joint County/State Work Program which allows them work outside of a facility, Roberson said.

Eight classified state inmates from across the state are expected to arrive in Panola County soon to help with county work, Roberson also said.

According to Chandler, the inmate help has saved taxpayer dollars on grass cutting, maintenance of county buildings and other chores throughout the county for over a decade.

The stencilled letters on the county administrator’s office doors were drawn by inmates, he said.

The county’s four Solid Waste garbage trucks each depend on inmates, who ride in pairs on the trucks and empty trash cans.

Asked about the apparent problem with the uncertified inmates, Chandler said his office had no first-hand dealings with that process.

"It’s not this county office’s responsibility to make sure the state inmates are certified," Chandler said.
Thanks to some quick hiring of part-time help, the county’s garbage trucks kept pace with their pick-up schedule this week despite the absence of state inmate help, Chandler said.

Batesville will borrow $1.9 million to balance budget
By Jason C. Mattox

The City of Batesville will operate on a balanced budget in 2005-06 with help from a $1.9 million bond issue.

Before settling on the bond issue to balance the $20 million budget, CPA Bill Crawford, who prepared the budget for the city, presented the mayor and board of aldermen with an option to cut five or 10 percent from the overall budget.

"I put in the cuts just to see what it would do for us," Crawford said. "When you look at the fact that we have a $20 million budget, even a 10 percent cut is not going to get us where we need to be."

During a previous budget work session, city leaders learned something would need to be done to resolve overdrafts in several of the city’s funds.

"According to the inter-fund transfers that (City Clerk) Laura (Herron) made, there are no more overdrafts for the new budget," Crawford explained. "As of right now, all of the programs and departments are showing a positive cash balance."

Crawford said the only way he could see the city getting to a balanced budget would be a bond issue.
"I really hate to see it, but we have cut where we can," he said. "So basically doing this will mean you are living off your credit cards."

Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton asked what they should tell the citizens of Batesville.

"How do we explain to them that we keep spending more money than we have coming in?" he asked.

"Potential development east of town could increase your tax revenue in the future," Crawford said. "If people develop it, the city will be better off."

Crawford told city leaders that budgeting with a bond issue is not a "best case scenario."

"This is something you do when you are out of options and have to do it," he said. "And we are at that point now.

"It sounds like you have been throwing money away, but you haven’t," Crawford added. "Those expenses are the cost a city has to pay to grow, and Batesville has been growing."

Prior to adopting the budget, the board will hold a public hearing on Sept. 6 beginning at 6 p.m. in the board room at City Hall. The budget must be adopted by Sept. 15.

Test results drop level at three schools
By Rupert Howell

Three South Panola District schools dropped to a lower academic rating level, according to District Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer who told school trustees Tuesday that the district still remains at a "strong level three."

Shaffer had figures that showed Pope School had dropped from level five to four and Batesville Elementary and Intermediate from level four to three.

The other schools in the district, Batesville Middle School, Batesville Junior High School and South Panola High School, remained at level three.

Shaffer noted that Batesville Elementary and Intermediate Schools had previously earned their level four status by exceeding their growth model which he explained made it harder to achieve the next year.

"It’s nearly impossible to exceed growth two consecutive years," he said, adding that scores for the current year were basically the same as last year with achievement levels increasing slightly in a few areas at those two schools.

Pope School’s achievement level slipped slightly, Shaffer told trustees, stating that level five was missed by .24 in the high achievement index.

Shaffer, who assumed the superintendent’s position in July, told trustees the achievement level drop in Pope had already been addressed.

When first employed as superintendent, Shaffer said he would use data driven decisions to allow the school district to pinpoint problem areas.

Information gathered from testing data is used to determine deficiencies with instruction.

Mississippi Curriculum Test scores are rated in categories: minimal, basic, proficient and advanced.
Shaffer said he wants to move basic and proficient ranking students up using higher expectations and increasing rigor so that parents will say, "If our neighbors can be level five, why can’t we?"

Second employee terminated by county
By Billy Davis

A second high-profile Panola County employee has been terminated from his job, though this time the employee is not commenting about the circumstances of the firing.

County receiving clerk Norman Hughes was terminated Monday, his termination coming after assistant road manager David Arnold was fired at the supervisors’ "first Monday" meeting on August 1.

County Administrator David Chandler confirmed Hughes’ firing.

Both Hughes and Arnold are longtime county employees.

Reached at home by telephone, Hughes said he had no comment about his termination from his job nor any plans to appeal his firing.

Arnold, however, stirred up controversy when he accused the county of firing him for being a "whistle blower" after he asked questions about county-owned culverts being installed on private property.

County road manager Lygunnah Bean provided proof, however, that the property was part of the county’s right-of-way. Arnold was fired for insubordination, he also said.

The fired assistant road manager has since hired an attorney and is seeking an appeal hearing with the county board of supervisors.


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