Leader Blues

Saturday, September 16, 2006

TOP STORY>>Deer season seen as need to postpone trial

IN SHORT: A motion was filed in Lonoke Circuit Court in behalf of Bobby Cox Jr. to delay his trial to let jurors hunt.

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain says using the upcoming deer season as the basis for postponing the trial of a local bail bondsman is original, but she hopes the judge doesn’t go along with it.

“In my nine years as prosecutor, I have never had that used as a reason to postpone a trial, never,” McCastlain said. “I had a Washington Post reporter call me about it yesterday. Can you believe that?”

Defense attorney John Wes-ley Hall filed a motion in circuit court this week on behalf of Bobby Cox Jr. requesting a delay in the trial because hunters held on a jury past the opening of deer season might quickly vote guilty for that reason alone.

“You never want to hold jurors against their will,” Hall said. “They might hold it against everybody.”

Cox is scheduled for trial Nov. 8 with other defendants.

According to Hall’s calculations using figures from the state Game and Fish Commission, a full 10 percent of Arkansas’ population could be planning hunting trips for when the season opens Nov. 11. And because Lonoke County is rural, it’s likely that its percentage of deer hunters is higher, Hall said.

McCastlain calls the motion an excuse to delay the trial, which she expects to start on schedule despite the motion, which special Judge John Cole is expected to rule on Thursday, Sept. 21.

McCastlain claims Cox and others were part of a continuing criminal enterprise, which she dubbed the “Organization,” operating in the county. The defendants have filed motions saying McCastlain hasn’t adequately demonstrated what the “organization” did.

Arkansas has about 2.8 million residents and, according to the Game and Fish Commission, 273,128 big-game hunters. When the number of convicted felons and the number of children are considered, the number of hunters could make up 15 percent or more of Arkansas’ population, Hall said.

Lonoke County has about 60,000 residents and 6,735 of them have licenses to hunt big game, according to U.S. Census and state Game and Fish Commission figures. “If you put it against registered voters, there’s no telling what the percentage would be,” he said.

McCastlain last month filed 78 counts, in various combinations, against the town’s mayor, former police chief and four others alleging they were part of a criminal enterprise. Five of the defendants face felonies, while Lonoke Mayor Thomas Privett faces a single misdemeanor complaint.
Hall said he would like hunters in the pool because the state is expected to call a number of ex-felons, work-release inmates and “snitches.”
“If I had a drug case, I wouldn’t want them (hunters) on the jury,” Hall said.

Hall said he would be concerned that the trial would last more than a month and that hunters would miss all of the deer season, which closes in much of the state either Dec. 3 or Dec. 10, depending on the region.

“Suppose you’re stuck here until after Dec. 10, that’s the whole deer season,” Hall said.

McCastlain said the potential juror’s feelings on possibly missing deer season will come out during voirdaire (jury selection).
“We’ll figure out who’s willing to sit and who’s not during voirdaire,” she said.

The defendants were initially charged last winter and were named again in revised counts this summer. Because of concern about whether speedy trial provisions will soon expire, the judge set a trial for the fall.

Besides Cox and Privett, others charged are former Police Chief Jay Campbell, Campbell’s wife Kelly, police dispatcher Amy Staley and bail bondsman Larry Norwood.

The bulk of McCastlain’s charges claim the defendants worked together to obtain drugs, money and jewelry. They also conspired to obtain construction, labor or sex from state prisoners, the court documents said. Cole said Privett and Staley can have separate trials.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.