Headlines – 7/21/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 21, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – July 21, 2006

  From the 7/21/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Como bribery trial trips up, falls apart on witness stand
By Billy Davis

Despite producing a string of witnesses who had told state investigators they were bribed on election day, the state attorney general’s office failed to prosecute two defendants who stood accused of paying voters to vote for Como Mayor Bobby Lewers last year.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Raymond D. Boyce and Jessie Mae Barnett walked out of court Wednesday after a jury delivered a not guilty verdict on bribery charges.

Circuit Court Judge Ann Lamar presided over the bribery trial.

A Panola County grand jury had indicted Boyce on one count of bribery and two counts of attempted bribery. Barnett had been indicted on two counts of attempted bribery.

The circuit court trial was held over three days in Sardis, where the jury delivered a "not guilty" verdict on all counts Wednesday afternoon.

Jury selection had lasted most of the day Monday, seating seven black females, four black males, and one white female, according to an account of the trial published Thursday in The Southern Reporter.

Boyce was represented by Ellis Turnage of Clarksdale. Barnett was represented by Cornelia Ford of Oxford.

The not guilty verdict rendered Wednesday comes after voter fraud charges were dismissed last week against Como Police Chief Cleve Gale and City Clerk Nedra Dandridge.

Gale and Dandridge were both indicted last October on one count of conspiracy to commit voter fraud and three counts of voter fraud by use of absentee ballots. Dandridge was also indicted on a single count of voter fraud by a registrar.

Circuit Court Judge Andrew C. Baker threw out the charges against Gale and Dandridge, citing a lack of evidence, the Sardis newspaper also reported.

Reached this week by The Panolian, Gale said the indictments were "embarrassing" to himself and Dandridge, and the town they represent.

"I knew all the time we didn’t do anything wrong," said Gale, who also serves as a county constable.

The state’s case against Boyce and Barnett stemmed from election day last summer when Lewers faced challenger Judy Sumner in a May 17 run-off election for Como mayor.

During voting that day, Boyce and Barnett allegedly hauled voters Laura Howard, Robert "Cup" Williams, Darlene Nunley, Timothy Nunley and others to the city’s polling place at the Como Police Department.

In separate interviews with an attorney general’s office investigator, Williams, Howard, Darlene Nunley and Timothy Nunley each claimed they had been offered $5 and a ride to the polls by the defendants if they would cast a ballot for Lewers.

The one-page interviews, on file in the circuit clerk’s office, were compiled as evidence in the state’s criminal case against Boyce and Barnett.

Timothy Nunley recalled to the investigator that he was near the Como Supermarket when he was approached about voting for Lewers for $5, later learning from Howard that the man who spoke to him was Boyce.

Nunley told the investigator that he was too young to vote but went anyway in a truck crowded with Howard, Williams and Darlene Nunley, the investigator’s report shows. At the polling place, the 17-year-old slipped around the building while everyone went inside and reappeared when they came out, earning $5 after saying he had voted.

Although the witness interviews offered similar accounts of the alleged bribes, the state’s case evidently crumbled in the courtroom during live testimony.

Williams, for example, first said he wasn’t in Como on election day – he lives in Memphis – but later said he was driven to the polls by Boyce, The Southern Reporter reported. His testimony also conflicted with other witnesses about the time of day he was driven to the polling place by Boyce.

Williams did name several others who were on the truck as well, including Howard and Darlene Nunley, and said he voted via an affidavit since he was not a registered voter.

The state’s case also encountered witnesses who seemingly changed their stories while on the witness stand. Como voter Dennis Pettis, who was expected to testify about payment, said on the witness stand that he was not riding on the truck because he had walked to the polls, telling the court he never saw Boyce or Barnett.

Robert Gardner, another state witness, stated during court testimony that he had voted absentee and hence was not on the truck either.

In closing arguments Wednesday, The Southern Reporter noted that Fondren suggested to jurors that Howard had changed her testimony while on the stand.

As the state’s case collapsed during trial, Fondren and Turnage asked Lamar to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanor, a motion she denied, then asked for a motion to dismiss the case against their clients due to insufficient evidence. Lamar denied that request as well.

A spokesman from the state attorney general’s office could not be reached for comment by press time.

Park skaters on thin ice with city
By Jason C. Mattox

Batesville city officials on Tuesday adopted an ordinance to put an end to skateboarding and rollerblading within the structures of the Downtown Memorial Park.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Bobbie Jean Pounders had expressed concern for youngsters who were using the area as a skate park.

"We have put signs up and the kids keep taking them," she said. "We need to do something to discourage them."

Her comments came Monday at a budget session, but by Tuesday’s scheduled board meeting, Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell had drafted an ordinance making skateboarding and roller blading in the park illegal.

Youngsters may still use the former "zip lane" space, but will be prohibited from skating in the park area.

The proposed ordinance was adopted by aldermen during their regular meeting on Tuesday.

In other business, city planning consultant Bob Barber met with city leaders to offer his suggestions on how to resolve the problem of ever-growing signs.

Barber told aldermen the city’s ordinance on signs is one of the best he has seen, but the problem is the routine granting of variances.

"You have consistently granted variances that allow for signs that are 200 to 300 percent bigger than your ordinance set," he said.

Barber told aldermen he would continue working with the planning commission on this problem, as well as updating or revising other ordinances and present a complete package to the board at a later date.

City code enforcement officer John McCollum asked for a modification in the city’s existing junk ordinance.

"I have taken more than 60 cases to court in three years, and lost my first one this week," he said. "Because of the words ‘out of sight’ in the ordinance."

Aldermen unanimously voted to amend the ordinance to exclude that wording.

The final ordinances discussed were brought up by Police Chief Gerald Legge, who asked for a city ordinance regulating yard sales, and a revision of a current "use of weapons" ordinance to bring it into compliance with the newly updated state law.

Near the meeting’s end, aldermen voted to enter executive session to discuss personnel matters in the fire department and police department. The Panolian later interrupted the executive session to protest that the conditions were too broadly stated and insufficiently specific to be included under exemptions allowed in the state’s open meetings law.

Following the executive session, aldermen voted to roll the regular meeting time for the Tuesday, August 1 meeting to 1 p.m. to allow time for members of the Batesville Fire Department who wanted to meet with city officials.

Fire department business would be interrupted at the regular 2 p.m. meeting time of the board of mayor and aldermen and then resumed later during the same meeting when Fire Chief Tim Taylor arrives for his report.

BPD: Quick tips helped find robbery suspects
     Panola County sheriff’s deputy Earl Burdette (left) stuffs robbery suspect Johnny Newton into the back of a Batesville police cruiser driven by BPD Lt. Kerry Pittman (right) outside the Amerihost Inn Wednesday morning in east Batesville. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies tracked Newton to the hotel thanks to eyewitness accounts.
By Billy Davis

An 18-year-old is in jail on a $1 million bond after allegedly robbing the Power Drive branch of First Security Bank Wednesday morning.

Batesville police have charged Johnny Newton, of Biloxi, with a felony charge of robbery, saying he fits the description of a white male who burst into the bank about 10:40 Wednesday morning and jumped the teller counter, taking an undisclosed amount of money as he fled.

Police also charged Newton’s girlfriend, Julia Lemoine, with conspiracy to commit robbery, saying she had "scoped" out the bank for Newton.

Lemoine, 22, is in the Panola County Detention Center on a $750,000 bond, said BPD Major Don Province.

Police dispatchers received the bank robbery call at 10:41 a.m., Province said. By 10:50, he said, a manhunt in the area of Highway 6 East and Lakewood Drive had pinpointed the suspects in Room 125 at the Amerihost Inn, located on Lakewood.

"Apparently they hoped to ‘hole up’ in the room until things cooled down," Province said.

As Newton and Lemoine sat in the room, however, witnesses along the commercial strip of Lakewood Drive helped police track the pair to the north exit of the hotel. Police would not say how they learned what room the robbery suspects were staying in but said that the couple had checked into the hotel Monday.

"A lot of people deserve thanks because they helped capture these people," BPD Detective Paul Shivers said Thursday. "We got a lot of cooperation from the public in solving this crime."

An 8-month-old baby belonging to Lemoine is now in the care of family members after the little girl was taken from the hotel by the Department of Human Services, the police major also said.

Describing a timeline of the robbery, Province said witnesses saw the couple together as they walked along Lakewood and crossed from north to south across Highway 6. The bank is located just south of the highway.

Lemoine had apparently pushed the baby in a stroller from the hotel to the bank branch, Province confirmed.

Once across the highway, Lemoine scoped out the bank for her boyfriend by asking for a job application. She was outside the bank when Newton ran in with a stocking over his face.

"He stated that he had a gun but never displayed it," Province said. A firearm was not recovered, he said.

After the robbery, Newton and Lemoine split up. The boyfriend ran behind several businesses while the girlfriend, pushing the 8-month-old, backtracked along Lakewood.

According to Province, Newton tossed the robbery money under a vehicle near the bank.

"All of the money was recovered," he said.

Province said Newton is wanted in Biloxi on a charge of burglary.

Lemoine has no criminal record.

Community support grows as boys ‘hang in there’

By Myra Bean

Three Panola County young men who were involved in a traffic accident July 13 remain in the University Medical Center in Jackson in the critical care unit.

A fourth victim, Monroe Harrison, remains at Rush Foundation Hospital in Meridian.

Parents of Tyler Benson, Brandon Taylor and Jonathan Ware report their sons have a long way to go, but are "hanging in there."

Brenda Taylor, mother of Brandon, asked for continued prayer for all the young men.

Vera Phillips, aunt of Harrison, said Monday, "He’s okay," but that Monroe was still having some "rough days," and doctors were optimistic. He was moved to a private room Wednesday at Rush Foundation Hospital.

The community continues to come together to support the young men and their families financially and through blood donations.

A joint account for all four young men has been set up at First Security Bank. There are some individual accounts set up at First Security as well. A bank account for Taylor’s medical expenses has also been set up at BancorpSouth.

A blood drive is set for Saturday at Wal-Mart in Batesville to benefit Taylor, who was severely injured in the wreck.

The blood drive is set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Sunday, a blood drive will be held at Hosanna Worship Center at the Pope/Courtland Exit from noon to 4 p.m.

A Boston butt sale will be held Saturday, July 29 at the Courtland Fire Department. The butts are $20 each. To order call 563-8263.

Everyone can help by purchasing a raffle ticket to win a one-day rental of a 15-foot-high water slide. Tickets are $5 each. The drawing will be held Saturday, July 29 at noon at the Concession Stand located in the former TNT building.

Tickets can be purchased at the Concession Stand.
All proceeds will be divided among the families of the four boys.



Copyright 2005-2006 by The Panolian, Inc..  All rights reserved
Copyright 2001-2004 by Batesville Newspapers, LLC.  All rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission  is prohibited.