Thursday, November 19, 2009

19 NOV 09 (final): Mark's-A-Lot

I drove by the Columbus federal courthouse around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, and quickly concluded the Mark Shelnutt jury was still at work. For one thing, a bit WLTZ van was parked outside the door. For another thing, there was no confetti on the sidewalk celebrating an acquittal.

The confetti may have been thrown about two hours later - after a federal jury acquitted attorney Mark Shelnutt on all 36 remaining counts against him. So where did Shelnutt's victory tour begin? At the St. Luke United Methodist Church Wednesday night supper -- or at the Muscogee County District Attorney's office?

Reporters in the courtroom say Mark Shelnutt's relatives cried as the 36 NOT guilty verdicts were read. Shelnutt then broke down in tears, while answering questions outside. Before long, he may have others crying with him - as Shelnutt is a songwriter, and this is a country ballad simply waiting to happen.

While I didn't attend the Mark Shelnutt trial, the news media reports last week led me to guess he would go free. After all, when a prosecutor admits in open court he lied to Shelnutt to get information from him.... well, some people in Columbus actually want their public officials to be honest.

Then there was the evidence indicating "star witness" drug dealer Torrance Hill didn't want to turn against his attorney in the first place. It's easy to understand why. Prison inmates don't have access to that many lawyers - and Gary Bruce didn't become the "good guy" by representing known bad guys.

WRBL was first to interview a member of Mark Shelnutt's jury. Patricia Jackson said she does NOT consider Shelnutt completely innocent - but the federal indictment was poorly worded, compared to the language of federal law. For instance, how do you "corruptly" offer free Georgia football tickets to someone? Especially if they're not wrapped inside an Auburn T-shirt?

The prosecutors had little to say to reporters after the verdict was announced. Carlton Bourne said he accepted the jury's decision - and that was about it. He'll now be in hiding in Macon, until President Obama appoints a replacement.

Mark Shelnutt's attorneys suggested the federal case had political motives -- and they very well could be right. Remember the envelope left at our front door last December, with a DVD and court transcripts? [9 Dec 08] Now that the verdict is in, I feel comfortable revealing clues about its origin. Especially since I was NOT called as a witness during the trial....

After closely checking the DVD from last December, I've found evidence indicating it was prepared in part on a Columbus city computer. And it was done by an assistant to former District Attorney Gray Conger -- someone who is NOT working under Julia Slater now. I'd go even further, but I might have to hire Mark Shelnutt to defend me in a lawsuit if I did.

This detail could matter, because Gray Conger has been rumored as a candidate for federal Magistrate Judge. But I have to note Conger seemed as surprised by the December DVD at the doorstep as I was. He called me to ask if we knew who delivered it. I had a guess then, which is more educated now -- and FedEx will be disappointed to learn it has nothing to do with this.

But back to the trial: former Columbus Mayor Frank Martin told WTVM Mark Shelnutt still faces a difficult future. He has to regain his law firm's reputation, and might have to charge lower fees. That's OK by me -- the fewer trips to Schomberg Road with boxes of money, tbe better.

Attorney Frank Martin said truth be told, most lawyers probably have accepted "drug money" at some point. And we're not talking about Ken Nugent suing the makers of Vytorin....

But Frank Martin added many hospitals probably also take "drug money," when pushers and abusers go in for medical treatment. Why does almost every topic these days come back around to health care reform?

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION we posted Wednesday night was offered to us during Mark Shelnutt's trial -- but we decided to hold it until the verdict was announced, then adjust it a bit. Should the verdict make a difference in two local upcoming elections? Will it matter to District Attorney Julia Slater? Should any local judges be nervous? And for a side issue, should Shelnutt now release a music CD?

E-MAIL UPDATE: Reaction reached us quickly about the Mark Shelnutt verdict. And of all places, it came from a north Georgia author....

As some of you know one of my greatest supporters during the research for MIBC, Attorney Mark Shelnutt, has been in the fight of his life with the Federal Govt. and has had a 40 count indictment of the most ludicrous criminal charges imaginable hanging over his head.

However, today he was found Not Guilty on all those counts and I want to publicly congratulate him for holding his own and rising up from a situation that must have felt like the depths of hell for the whole Shelnutt family.

Breathe easy dear friend, the sky is the limit!

Cilla McCain

McCain's abbreviation is for her upcoming book "Murder in Baker Company," about the killing of Fort Benning soldier Richard Davis. I hope Shelnutt didn't store any of Davis's personal belongings in his bedroom kitty box.

Another e-mail reached us early Wednesday, hours before the verdict was announced:

don't know Mark Shellnut and the only info I have on his case is from the media..However,do you think there is a motive for his recent marriage?..Remember, a wife does not have to testify against a husband..

Late Tue afternoon I was watching WTVM news..THe weather came on and the reporter said, "Today (Tue) was a beautiful day"..I thought something is wrong here because at my house it was raining..At the top of the screen was the banner that said,Monday...They were evidently using a tape of the wrong day...

Hmmmm -- a motive for marriage?! I would never think of comparing Mark Shelnutt with Anna Nicole Smith.

But here's the thing: when ex-wife Chris Shelnutt took the witness stand, she testified for the defense. So come to think of it, the government "witch hunt" even had some limits to it....

I didn't see the weather forecast mentioned in this e-mail. Maybe the reporter who declared Tuesday beautiful has a second job selling rain collection buckets.

BLOG UPDATE: Don't worry, legal eagles -- we may already have the next hot Columbus court case. WLTZ's web site has dubbed Judy Wilkinson the "Mimosa Madame." People who live on Mimosa Street in Midtown should send their angry e-mails to Julie Bercik.

A Recorder's Court judge found Judy Wilkinson guilty Wednesday of serving alcohol without a license at her Formal Elegance bridal shop. Wedding planners should learn a lesson from this -- and save the "champagne kisses" for the reception.

The Recorder's Court judge sentenced Judy Wilkinson to 30 days of probation - but she's appealing the conviction to state court anyway. Wilkinson explained she's received plenty of support from the business community. How ARE they opening eyes at the Chamber of Commerce eye-opener breakfasts, anyway?

Judy Wilkinson admitted she's not sure how this case will affect her position on the West Point City Council. If other Councilors send her wine baskets as Thanksgiving gifts, I guess we'll have the answer.

A few things happened Wednesday, away from the courthouses....

+ Mayor Jim Wetherington declared it "Charlie Daniels Day" in Columbus, as the singer performed a benefit concert at the RiverCenter. Directors of Camp Laughing Child admitted last week on WBOJ-FM the ticket price might make it "a sacrifice to attend...." For some of us from the North, a Southern rock concert would take some sacrifice at any price.

+ The Columbus Civic Center held a one-day "fire sale" of Kelly Clarkson tickets for $14.99. Uh-oh -- is this concert in trouble, as Darius Rucker's reportedly was? Does Clarkson need to appear with some WWE wrestlers?

+ WRBL reported the new Kia plant in West Point soon will have its own bank. If the tellers demand gold instead of dollars, be afraid -- be very afraid.

+ Ron Nelson confirmed he will NOT return as Phenix City Central football coach next season. Instead, he's hoping to be the honorary launcher of the fireworks at Thunder on the Hooch.

+ Columbus State University's basketball teams had "Cougar Madness" night, to promote the new season. Most major colleges do this at midnight on the opening night of practice. But the C.S.U. coaches realize they could only get a crowd at midnight by setting up baskets outside Victory Drive clubs.

+ Kellogg's announced the Atlanta-area flooding of last September will mean a stoppage in frozen waffle production, perhaps until next summer. Yes, we could have a nationwide Eggo shortage -- and the cries to "leg-go my Eggo" potentially could turn violent.

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BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 418 (+ 14 , 3.5%)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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