Wednesday, November 18, 2009

18 NOV 09: Closing Time

Sometimes it can be awkward to have a member of your family on jury duty. When I was a boy, my mother never would tell me the details of cases she was hearing - only something vague, like it was a "civil" case. Yes, even in my youth I tried to do investigative journalism....

So Tuesday night must have been interesting in the homes of Mark Shelnutt's jurors. They are NOT sequestered in a hotel, and Federal Judge Clay Land has instructed them throughout the trial not to read or watch anything about the case. So if the jurors don't explain a big jump in our blog readership Tuesday, it must be the attorneys.

The jury in the Mark Shelnutt trial retired for the evening, after four hours of deliberations. TV reports noted there's 36 counts to decide, and a lot of evidence to consider. The jurors certainly have learned one thing -- if they work through lunch, be sure to get a receipt for the food.

WRBL reports Judge Clay Land told the jury NOT to come to him with reports of 7-5 deadlocks. He said the only score he wants to hear is 12-0. I think that means Land is rooting for Carver High School to beat Woodward Academy in the playoffs this weekend.

Judge Clay Land's instructions included this comment: "You will never have to explain your verdict to anyone." The Ledger-Enquirer web site actually posted that sentence -- yet that's where you'll probably read interviews with jurors this weekend.

The instructions to the jury also included a statement that it's NOT against the law for attorneys to be paid in cash. It simply looks odd in 2009, when almost everyone has a credit or debit card.

Each side in the Mark Shelnutt trial had 90 minutes to present closing arguments. Prosecutor David Stewart claimed the defendant "tried to take control" of a drug-running conspiracy. Yet if Torrance Hill owns race cars and Shelnutt only invests in baseball cards, who's really in control here?

Prosecutors claimed Mark Shelnutt received much more than attorney's fees from Torrance Hill - he received "drug money." Shelnutt is accused of trying to hide that money in a bedroom safe, along with real estate investments from Florida to North Carolina. And imagine what could have happened if Bernard Madoff ever visited Columbus.

U.S. Attorney Carlton Bourne focused on the list of Mark Shelnutt held on a secretly-recorded videotape. Bourne argued Shelnutt broke the law by calling Torrance Hill's ex-wife to collect "drug money." But no one brought forward a collection agent from Bill Heard Chevrolet, to confirm the ethics of that.

Defense Attorney Tom Withers told the jury Mark Shelnutt has done nothing wrong - and the federal investigation has left him a "shattered man." Not so shattered that he couldn't find a second wife to marry in recent weeks, but still....

Tom Withers also argued law enforcement officers went too far, in an attempt to ruin Mark Shelnutt's reputation. He even accused a member of the Metro Narcotics Task Force of going out to "infect the community." C'mon now - I don't think narcotics agents seized the champagne at Formal Elegance.

I didn't realize until Tuesday night that Tom Withers lives in Savannah, and fellow defense attorney Craig Gillen is from Atlanta. Columbus has dozens of attorneys -- so why wouldn't any of them represent Mark Shelnutt? Do they still think he's going to run for Superior Court Judge next year?

If you want a good private look at the activity outside future federal trials, we received an offer in the mail which could interest you. A loft apartment in the 1200 block of First Avenue is on sale right now. But the price is about $174,000. And somehow, I have a feeling the realtor is going to demand payments over at least 15 years - by check.

While much of Columbus holds its breath awaiting a verdict, other things of note are happening....

+ Phenix City-Russell County Library officials told the city council they're seeking a matching grant to expand its parking lot. So the library had to reduce hours and staffing because money is tight - but it can find the money for new pavement?!

+ Alabama Governor Bob Riley toured a recycling center in Auburn. Riley stopped short of urging the state House and Senate to change the rules next year, so he can be recycled for a third term.

(The Governor told reporters the recycling center in a residential area of Auburn is "clean, with no smell." He could have made a comparison with the upcoming state legislative session, but....)

+ The Atlanta weekly paper "Southern Voice" went out of business, citing a lack of money. The tabloid focused on homosexual-related news. I heard a local pastor claim two years ago the Southeast drought was due to Atlanta embracing the homosexuality -- so this shutdown finally could explain all the rain.

+ Wofford whipped Georgia in men's college basketball 60-57. I hesitate to call this an upset, because the Bulldog basketball team struggled last season - and because the Georgia coaches might have called another "blackout" night.

+ Instant Message to President Obama: Whatever you do in South Korea, do NOT drive a Kia. Fox News Channel will show video of the West Point plant, and declare you anti-American all over again.

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