Friday, June 10, 2011

Opening arguments begin today in corruption trial

VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor gives a thumbs up as he arrives with his attorneys for the first day of the gambling corruption trial at the Federal Courthouse in Montgomery on Monday.
VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor gives a thumbs up as he arrives with his attorneys for the first day of the gambling corruption trial at the Federal Courthouse in Montgomery on Monday. 
Federal prosecutors and de­fense attorneys will begin opening arguments today in the high-pro­file trial of VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor and eight other defendants, including two sitting state senators, after finish­ing jury selection Thursday.
Prosecutors and defense attor­neys whittled down 90 potential jurors by Thursday afternoon. They had 12 jurors and five alter­nates to decide the fate of the nine defendants charged with buying and selling support for pro-gam­bling legislation.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is protecting the identi­ty of the jurors. They were identi­fied by number. The jury consists of 10 women and two men with five female alternates, according to The Associated Press.
Joe Espy, lead attorney for McGregor, said he did not know the makeup of the jury, but tried to look at the questionnaires they answered and how they answered questions from attorneys.
"I felt I had a good, impartial jury," Espy said.
Defense attorneys worked to­gether to decide which jurors to strike or cut from the panel.
A former U.S. attorney who is not involved in the trial, Redding Pitt of Birmingham, told the Associ­ated Press that some of the top law­yers in Alabama are participating in the trial and would have picked the jurors based on their individual in­terviews, not their gender.
"You can't draw a blanket con­clusion based on demographics," he said.
When asked how he will portray McGregor in opening arguments, Espy said "innocent. Absolutely in­nocent."
The prosecution will begin open­ing arguments at 9 a.m. today fol­lowed by an attorney for each of the nine defendants, which could take more than six hours.
Prosecutors will have 50 min­utes.
Espy will handle the opening ar­gument for McGregor and will be the first defense attorney to address jurors because his client is listed first in the indictment.
"We feel good. We're ready. We're prepared," Espy said leaving the courthouse Thursday night.
He will have 45 minutes to pres­ent opening arguments for McGre­gor, followed by 40 minutes for one of lobbyist Tom Coker's attorneys, and 35 minutes for each additional defendant.
"Looks like to me it'll be a full day," Espy said.Espy said they expect the prose­cution to call its first witness Mon­day and expect to know by 5 p.m. to­day who that will be.
When asked how he would por­tray the campaign contributions from McGregor to lawmakers, Espy said "our position is any campaign contributions were legitimate sup­port for someone you believe in." He said those who opposed the gam­bling industry sent money to candi­dates who opposed it.
Espy said they also hope to illus­trate that there was a consistent pattern to McGregor's contributions dating back to before the alleged conspiracy.
Espy said, at the conclusion of the trial, they feel very strongly McGregor will be found not guilty.
Attorneys took four days to se­lect the jury. Much of that process was closed to the public. Three pan­els of potential jurors were ques­tioned at length about a variety of issues including religion, gambling, politics and their support of groups such as the tea party, the Alabama Education Association, the Business Council of Alabama and the Chris­tian Coalition.
Thompson and the attorneys for both sides spent most of Thursday behind closed doors questioning ju­rors. They emerged during the af­ternoon to strike the jury, deciding which panel members each side wanted to cut.
After striking the jury, Thomp­son said opening arguments would begin at 9 a.m. today.
The other defendants in the trial are state Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery; state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb; former state Sens. Larry Means, D-Attalla, and Jim Preuitt, R-Talladega; lobbyist Bob Geddie; legislative analyst Ray Crosby; and Jay Walker, who was a spokesman for the Country Cross­ing development.
The defendants, who were ar­rested in October following their in­dictment along with two men who have since pleaded guilty, were al­leged to conspire in 2009 and 2010 to bribe or solicit bribes to support pro-gambling legislation that would have helped McGregor and the own­er of Country Crossing, Ronnie Gilley.
Casinos with electronic bingo, which then-Gov. Bob Riley believed was played on slot machines that are illegal in the state, were under increasing pressure from a task force Riley formed to shut that ac­tivity down.Gilley and his lobbyist, Jarrod Massey, have since pleaded guilty. Both men and Jennifer Pouncy, who worked for Massey and has also pleaded guilty, have agreed to coop­erate with the prosecution.
Others who have agreed to coop­erate, include several state legisla­tors including Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka; Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale; and former state Rep. Benjamin Lewis, who Riley appoint­ed as a district judge in Houston County. Those lawmakers wore wires to record their conversations for investigators.
Other potential witnesses in­clude Riley, former state Attorney General Troy King, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Secretary of State Beth Chapman, Troy Universi­ty Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Alaba­ma Education Association head Paul Hubbert, David Bronner of the Re­tirement Systems of Alabama, and country stars Randy Owen of Alaba­ma, George Jones and Lorrie Mor­gan.

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