Friday, November 13, 2009

13 NOV 09: Friends in Low Places

Thursday brought the alleged "star witness" for the prosecution, in the trial of Mark Shelnutt. That witness showed up in federal court wearing an orange-and- white prison shirt and leg shackles. The only "stars" I might associate with that kind of outfit are gangster rappers.

Torrence Hill told a Columbus federal jury about his years of drug-dealing, and his relationship with defense attorney Mark Shelnutt. The two men apparently were close for years - as close as the opposite sides of a glass window at the county jail.

Torrence Hill told the court he paid Mark Shelnutt around $250,000 in legal fees - but never was given a receipt for it. Am I understanding this case correctly? Hill is in prison for handling large amounts of cocaine - yet his attorney could join him there for not handing over a slip of paper?

Torrence Hill testified he was on Mark Shelnutt's side, when a federal investigation began. But the drug-runner turned "state's evidence" after Shelnutt told authorities he had Hill arrested on drug charges. This may prove the old phrase about "honor among thieves" - or at least among attorneys for thieves.

Another thing that ruined the attorney-client relationship was how Torrence Hill resumed drug-dealing while awaiting trial. Mark Shelnutt reportedly griped $141,000 seized from Hill's apartment "could have been his." Some would call Shelnutt financially prudent - seeking cash up-front to help Hill's credit score.

Torrence Hill insisted he gave Mark Shelnutt a list of people who owed him money, and told Shelnutt to collect it. I never realized Columbus collection agencies were so ethical that they would turn down a deal like this.

During cross-examination, Torrence Hill repeated what seems to be a defense theme - that prosecutors investigated Mark Shelnutt to keep him from becoming a Muscogee County Judge. You'd think a series of "attack ads" on the evening news would be more cost-effective....

The only other prosecution witness Thursday was Mark Shelnutt's former legal secretary. Joanne "J.S." Strickland admitted Shelnutt gave her $7,000 to deposit in her bank account in 2006 -- then she wrote a check for $6,500, keeping the remaining $500 for a family wedding gift. Now I really feel guilty about buying one of my nieces a modest Wal-Mart gift card.

Mark Shelnutt apparently claimed he lent $7,000 to Joanne Strickland for her daughter's wedding. But Strickland told the court Thursday it was NOT a loan. Does this mean money was laundered? Or did Shelnutt simply wear a suit with fake coat pockets, so he had no good place to hide the cash?

WTVM reports the prosecution is expected to rest its case against Mark Shelnutt today. Then a weekend break is expected, before the defense begins presenting its witnesses. If St. Luke United Methodist Church has record attendance at Sunday school, I think I'll know why....

By the way, I didn't realize until I read the Ledger-Enquirer's coverage of the trial that Mark Shelnutt is a newlywed. He married a co-worker at his law firm earlier this fall. If this wedding occurred in Hollywood, the tabloids would know by now if the couple has a pre-nuptial agreement.

You're invited to hear me sing this weekend, at a special "Pre-Thanksgiving" worship service and dinner! It starts Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET at the Woodmen of the World hall on Milgen Road -- between the post office and Lumber Liquidators.

E-MAIL UPDATE: So what has Mark Shelnutt's good friend Julia Slater been doing this trial? The Muscogee County District Attorney has been busy at her office -- apparently taking personal charge of that request involving Lanny Davis we mentioned Wednesday. This e-mail from Slater was passed on to us by Georgia author Cilla McCain:


I am so sorry to hear of Lanny's condition. I have been praying for him and his family since I heard and have my family praying as well. I lost my mother-in-law to lung cancer 2 years ago and the wounds are still fresh. I know what his family is going through and I pray for their strength each day.

As you know, I have personally searched this office for items relating to the death of Richard Davis. There were three rooms in this office which, prior to me taking office, were used as storage areas. All three of these rooms have been completely cleaned out. Two are now being used as offices for staff members and one is now a conference room. It is in one of these rooms that I located Richard Davis' dog tag in March. Additionally, I personally searched the vault and particularly the area where the evidence on this case was stored. I was unable to locate anything else related to Richard's death. I have spoken to those involved in the storage of evidence and prosecution of this case and have had those people also search the office. Richard's dog tag is all that we were able to find.

I continue to "keep my eyes open" for items relating to this case, but I have run out of places to look. Since I was not the DA who took possession of the evidence in this case, I cannot speak to whether the items were actually received by this office and it is difficult for me to imagine where the missing items could be.

I am sorry that I cannot offer anything more concrete to you or Mr. and Mrs. Davis, but I have done everything I can to help in this situation. Please tell Lanny that I am praying for him and his family and continue to hope that he can reach some closure on this matter.


Julia Slater

District Attorney

Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit

Perhaps this news will spark a second search -- through the attic and basement of Gray Conger.

In personal comments sent with this message, Cilla McCain writes: "I'm appalled that these things are lost and there seems to be no recourse...." She's concerned guilty criminals could go free, because of mishandled evidence. Can we hire Oprah Winfrey's "clutter controller" to check the homes of candidates in the next election?

But this e-mail raises another question. If three District Attorney storage rooms have become office and conference space, where is criminal evidence kept now? I recall prosecutors complaining years ago they didn't have enough storage space at the Government Center. Does this explain the large metal storage containers in a few convenience store parking lots?

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Check "On the Flop!" <--

BLOG UPDATE: Suppose someone offered to pay the expenses to hold a political debate at your location. Would you accept the offer? A former candidate told me Thursday a Columbus TV station turned him down. And it was NOT the Christian Television Network station, concerned about the separation of church and state.

Jerry Luquire fell short in last week's special election to fill a Georgia House seat. Luquire says he approached WRBL about buying 30 minutes of time, so the runoff candidates could debate each other. But the station management said no -- perhaps unsure about which candidate's side to be on.

Jerry Luquire envisioned holding the debate at 12:00 noon - when WRBL has replaced its midday news with infomercials for things like Ab Rockets and Nuwave Ovens. My theory is that the managers didn't want to pay staff members to come in for camera and control room duty. So the private sector keeps two Republicans from promoting private-sector economic ideas.

Jerry Luquire confirmed he's endorsing Steve Earles in the 1 December runoff against Kip Smith. He explained Earles comes closest to matching his "Christian principles." I should have asked Luquire if that meant baptism by immersion or sprinkling.

"I'm the culprit," Jerry Luquire admitted about his failed Georgia House campaign. He says he failed to get his message out to voters. The fact that he called this blog nine days after the vote seems to be proof of that.

Speaking of elections, former school administrator Alfred Stewart announced Thursday he'll run for Columbus Council next year. Stewart joins Nathan Suber in the District 1 race - and incumbent Jerry Barnes probably is smiling at the thought of two "anti-" candidates eliminating each other.

(Stewart told WRBL one of his main issues is the number of vacant lots across Columbus. He says roaches from those lots invade homes after dark. Those 100 new police officers need to look down toward the sidewalks once in a while.)

Now we need to catch up on other news items from the last couple of days....

+ An afternoon jog found rainwater covering the Columbus Riverwalk. I assume the Phenix City walkway is covered with water as well -- so for a few days, joggers can refer to their best track as IDA Hour Park.

(The Ledger-Enquirer reports 2009 is now the third-wettest year on record in Columbus. So if we have a big surplus, shouldn't Columbus Water Works be lowering our rates?)

+ A large crowd toured the National Infantry Museum on Veterans Day. Veterans from the LaGrange area traveled to the museum aboard "Honor Buses" - which makes me wonder why "Honor Flights" were used for that trip to Washington. Are airplane restrooms really more comfortable?

+ The Columbus Foundry near Bradley Park Drive was saved from closure at the last minute, when a buyer stepped in to buy the business. More than 100 workers will keep their jobs - and this weekend at church they'll sing, "I once was lost, but now am Foundry."

+ WRBL revealed the Jam Skate and Child Care Center on Milgen Road operated without a city license for six months. Then it suddenly closed, without notifying customers who had booked parties there. So the center apparently took its name from its financial situation....

+ An Alabama State Senator proposed a statewide voter referendum on banning all forms of gambling. This would include the "charity bingo" at Victoryland. If that ban happens, the new Oasis Hotel in Shorter will be aptly named - because everything around it will be deserted.

+ Instant Message to Georgia head football coach Mark Richt: Did I see that right? You did TV interviews about this weekend's Auburn game in front of a G logo turned upside-down? Some people would take that as a distress signal....

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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.

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