Headlines – 10/7/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 7, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – October 7, 2005

  From the 10/7/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

Absentee voting gets under way
Registration ends today for election
By Billy Davis

Absentee voting is under way in Panola County in preparation for the November 8 sheriff’s election.

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The option to vote absentee is available to Panolians who will be unable to get to the polls on election day, such as voters who work out of town.

The last day to register to vote in the upcoming election is today.

Voters can fill out an absentee ballot in the circuit clerk’s office at either county courthouse in Sardis or Batesville.

Anyone who is 65 or older can also vote in the circuit clerk’s office at the courthouse. An election ballot can be mailed to their homes, but to be legal the ballot envelope containing the ballot must be signed in front of a notary.

"Persons who are disabled do not have to be notarized but must have a person over the age of 18 witness the signature," said Circuit Clerk Joe Reid.

Reid stressed that voters receiving absentee ballots in their homes should closely follow the instructions. The ballot envelope must be signed on the back, he said, and the application and ballot should be placed in the correct envelopes that arrive in the mail.

For more information, contact the circuit clerk’s office at (662) 563-6210 (Batesville) or (662) 487-2073 (Sardis).

Appeal in works after Poynor gets 10-year sentence
By Billy Davis

Former justice of the peace John Poynor was sentenced this week to 10 years in state prison for statutory rape and fondling, but his attorneys have already filed papers to appeal the verdict to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker sentenced Poynor, 61, to a 10-year sentence, with five years to serve and five suspended.

Poynor, who lives in Pope, also received a five-year sentence for fondling a minor last winter.

Both accusations came from the children of a former girlfriend, both of them sisters, who testified in court about Poynor’s alleged illicit actions.

A third sister had made another accusation of statutory rape, which led to a second indictment against Poynor, but Baker tossed out that charge during the girl’s court testimony.

Poynor pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintained his innocence when he testified during the trial.

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

The five-year sentence for fondling will run consecutive to the five years in prison for statutory rape, meaning Poynor faces 10 total years in prison, then five years of probation, Baker explained from his chambers following the sentencing.

Baker handed down the sentencing at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville Tuesday morning after first hearing an appeal from defense attorneys that he overturn the jury’s guilty verdict or order a new trial.

Poynor is represented by former district attorney Bobby Williams and Charleston attorney Alison Kelly. Williams’ daughter Paige, also an attorney, is assisting her father in Poynor’s defense.

Prior to the sentencing, defense attorneys had filed a Motion for Probation for their client should Baker reject their appeals for an overturned verdict or a new trial.

In court filings, the defense attorneys suggested that a jury member failed to disclose to the judge a "sour" business deal with Poynor.

Still other defense arguments centered around Poynor’s trial attorney, Jay Westfaul, whose performance during the trial was called "constitutionally ineffective" in the court papers.

Court papers said Baker should have let Westfaul introduce witnesses who would have testified the mother had concocted the accusations.

A private investigator hired by Westfaul had interviewed more than 10 witnesses, each one prepared to testify that the mother had told them she was seeking money from Poynor.

That testimony was the bedrock of Westfaul’s case and Poynor’s defense but was not allowed due to a "hearsay" ruling from Baker.

"Most of the defense was built on motive, and they wouldn’t allow it in court," said Poynor’s daughter, Tina Watkins, following the sentencing.

Watkins was among three character witnesses called by the defense to plead for leniency from Baker before he handed down the felony sentencing. The other witnesses were Betty Alexander, Poynor’s ex-wife, and family friend J.W. Beard.

Under questioning from Alison Kelly, Watkins and the other witnesses spoke little of mercy, instead pleading that Poynor was innocent of the charges against him.

"Has anybody ever made allegations against your father?" Kelly asked Watkins.

"No," said Watkins, who said she was raised by her father.

"A pedophile starts at home. It doesn’t start at 61," Watkins added.

Poynor, seated at the defense table in a dark gray suit, wiped away tears as his daughter and ex-wife described him as kindhearted and loving.

Baker allowed the veering testimony about Poynor’s innocence without objection, appearing frustrated once when Alexander said she "just don’t see how it was possible" that Poynor was guilty of the sexual crimes against the girls.

Baker was more vocal about the attorneys’ court filings, however, at one time slamming down the four-inch thick law book to show his displeasure over the defense tactics.

On the subject of Westfaul’s performance, Baker said he thought the attorney had "done a good job."

On the subject of the juror with the bad business dealings, the judge lectured the defense about the role of the jury and the selection process.

"The jury system adds integrity and honor to our justice system," Baker said, holding up the law book as he spoke. "If we can’t trust our juries, we might as well do away with the jury system."

Poynor’s age and ailments were also discussed by his family as part of the plea for probation. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, emphysema and poor eyesight, his daughter said.

Poynor’s defense attorneys did help their client in the sentencing phase when the assistant district attorney told Baker 30 years is the minimum sentence for statutory rape.

Alison Kelly rose to her feet, however, and responded that 30 years is the maximum, not the minimum, sentence, for statutory rape.

"Suffice it to say I don’t know what the statute is," the assistant district attorney then told Baker.

The lawyers for both sides and Baker then flipped through their law books, agreeing that 30 years is the maximum sentence allowed by law.

On the fondling charge, the sentence is no less than two years in prison and no more than 15.

Explaining the sentence from the bench, Baker said Poynor received a fair trial and, despite his health and lack of a criminal record, a crime against children deserves prison time.

"We have to protect (children) sometimes when a mother doesn’t protect them," Baker said, alluding to trial testimony that the mother of the girls moved in with Poynor despite knowledge of the girls’ accusations.

Brenda Mapes, a relative of the girls, said after the sentencing that Poynor received the punishment he deserved.

"I do have compassion and I do feel bad, but every sin has consequences," Mapes said.

Sardis alderman has date in justice court
By Jason C. Mattox

Sardis alderman Rufus Smith will appear in Panola Justice Court Tuesday, October 11, to answer charges of petit larceny and false pretenses.

Constable Raye Hawkins arrested Smith Thursday, September 28.

"The affidavit for the arrest was taken out by Aaron’s Rent to Own," Hawkins said.

The Batesville business had sought to have a washing machine repossessed, he said.

Smith represents Ward 2 on the Sardis Board of Aldermen.

Aaron’s is conducting its own investigation and would not comment.

Hawkins said that he arrived at Smith’s residence with two workers from the business to take the appliance. When Smith was reluctant to allow the repossession, they left.

"I was not going to put these two young men in a situation that could be volatile," the constable said.
Hawkins later arrested Smith in Sardis. He was released from the David Bryan Justice Complex on $650 bond.

Smith was present for Tuesday night’s monthly meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.


     South Panola offensive line coach Michael Fair (far right) and volunteers from his driver’s education class took great pains while decorating the field at Tiger Stadium for what has been billed as the "game of the season" scheduled tonight at 7 p.m. Local officials are expecting a larger than average crowd as the number one ranked Tigers host the number two ranked ‘Quistors from Olive Branch. The Panolian photo by Rupert Howell
Another city salary juggle leaves Dugger alone, ‘crazy kind of guy’
By Jason C. Mattox

Less than one month after cutting their salaries, Batesville’s Mayor and most of its Board of Aldermen voted to raise their pay back to the originally budgeted salaries at Tuesday’s meeting.

The lone holdover, who said he wanted his salary left cut, was Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger.

"I guess I am just a crazy kind of guy, but that amount of money ($78 monthly) isn’t really a lot," he said.

A debate was sparked after City Clerk Laura Herron asked the board to amend a previous motion where the mayor agreed to a $500 pay cut.

"The mayor has decided to take a $100 cut monthly," she said. "That means he will give up $1,200 annually."

When the new 2005-06 budget was approved, aldermen pay was set at $1,078 with the vice-mayor to receive $1,178. The mayor’s salary was budgeted at $40,000. No elected official was to receive the three-percent cost of living increase.

The move from adjustment to raise came about swiftly following a rather heated discussion between Mayor Jerry Autrey and Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton, who serves as the city’s vice-mayor.
Yelton had agreed to give up $178 monthly (the vice-mayor receives an additional $100 monthly).

"I don’t think that it’s fair that I am giving up more money than you are," Yelton told Autrey.

Autrey explained that with the modified change in salary and not receiving a three percent pay raise, he was essentially giving up $200 a month.

"I’m not getting the three percent raise either," Yelton explained. "So I am still giving up more than you are, and I don’t think that is right.

"There is no way I should take more of a cut than you are when you make $40,000 a year to my $15,000," he added.

Dugger said he felt like the mayor’s proposed cut was fair.

"I think that is a reasonable amount," he said. "I don’t really remember us voting on his cut, he just volunteered it."

Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders proposed Yelton only give up $100 and keep the additional $78.

Yelton said the board had already voted to make the cut.

"I wasn’t going to take the extra $100 anyway," he said.

Following more debate, Pounders said she felt like everyone should just go back to what they were making before the cuts.

Pounders had originally questioned the pay cuts during a previous meeting but still voted to accept the $78 cut.

"At this point, I think we should all just go back to our original salary," she said. "Right now the public is not paying my bills, and I need the money.

"Pardon my expression, Jerry. I think you are doing a good job, but there are some of us that have been on this board for 15 years or more," Pounders added. "But you are making a hell of a lot more money than we are."

Yelton said he agreed with Pounders.

"He has done a lot more than I thought he would," he said. "But the cut of $178 for me just isn’t fair.

"I think we are up here doing the work and we deserve the money," Yelton added.

Dugger said he had no problem with the other aldermen adjusting their salary back up, but said he wanted his to remain at $1,000.

"I really don’t care what you all decide to do, but I want mine to left at the $1,000," he said.

Salaries for the aldermen and mayor were adjusted from $1,000 for aldermen back to $1,078 and back to $40,000 for the mayor.

Legislators split vote over inland gaming proposal
By Billy Davis

Panola County’s state representatives split their vote last week on a bill that proposed allowing Gulf Coast casinos to rebuild on dry land.

Rep. Leonard Morris voted for House Bill 45, which passed, while Rep. Warner McBride voted against it.
The state House of Representatives passed the measure 61-53 in a floor vote on September 30 during a special session of the state legislature.

The bill allows the casinos to move 800 feet inland from coastal waters. Gov. Haley Barbour backs the proposal.

McBride said he heard from many constituents about the bill, and a large majority of them opposed it.

"This wasn’t a 50/50 split. Almost everybody who contacted me was against it," McBride said. "They were overwhelmingly against it."

Morris had hinted at his approval in an earlier article in The Panolian, saying the issue was about economics, not the morality of gambling.

Reached this week, Morris reiterated that the House bill was about putting 14,000 casino employees back to work – not the right and wrong of casino gambling.

"This is not an issue of gambling in general," Morris said Thursday morning. "It’s not like we’re going to put gaming on the backwaters of Sardis Lake."

McBride also said his vote was a symbolic gesture against the state legislature’s priority to help the casino industry over other priorities.

"I didn’t feel like it was the time to take that issue up," McBride said. "We should be helping rebuild lives, homes and businesses."

Although the onshore gaming bill passed both the House and Senate, the issue is tied up in committee after the House and Senate disagreed over funding for so-called tidelands funds.

A Senate plan would require the casinos to pay one percent of their gross gaming revenues while a House version would tie the funding to the consumer price index.

The tidelands revenues funds piers, docks and other infrastructure construction along the Mississippi coast.

Sen. Jack Gordon of Okolona held up the onshore gaming bill until the tidelands issue is settled, The Clarion-Ledger newspaper reported Thursday.

Morris and McBride said several other hurricane-related bills are tied up in conference committees as the legislative bodies work out compromises.

Among the bills in conference are a "bridge gap" loan program for homeowners and an education bill to allow public school districts to borrow additional funds.

Morris said the education bill would allow school districts affected by Hurricane Katrina to borrow up to 50 percent of their anticipated revenue. School districts normally can borrow up to 25 percent, he said.

"The House wanted the three coastal counties to be able to borrow up to 80 percent," Morris said. "The Senate wanted any county (to be eligible) at a 50 percent maximum."

The loan program would offer a $25,000 no-interest loan to homeowners after they exhaust other sources of help, such as FEMA funds.

"The bills are trickling out of the committees," McBride said, "but it looks like we should be out of here by some time on Friday."

Service is today for Walls
By Billy Davis

Funeral services are today for a Courtland man who died in an automobile accident over the weekend.

Services for Darron Keith Walls will be at 1 p.m. today at New Bethlehem Baptist Church in Batesville.

Walls, 36, died Saturday, October 1, in a wreck at Shiloh and Carlisle roads in Panola County.

Walls was a passenger in a pickup truck that left the road and hit a tree, said Panola County Coroner Gracie Grant Gulledge.

Rev. Walter Nash will officiate the funeral services. Eddie Robinson and Son is in charge of arrangements.

Walls leaves behind a daughter and two sons.

See page A2 for additional obituary information.

Club’s breakfast tomorrow
By Billy Davis

Batesville Exchange Club will sponsor its annual Pancake Breakfast tomorrow (Saturday) morning from 7 until 10 a.m.

The annual event is held at the Batesville Intermediate School Cafeteria on Atwell and College Street north of the Batesville Downtown Square.

All funds raised will go toward the prevention of child abuse through the Crisis Center located in Oxford.

A $3 donation is requested and tickets may be obtained at the door.



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