Leader Blues

Monday, April 02, 2007

TOP STORY >>Witness is either a hitman or a liar

IN SHORT: Ron Tyler, a witness for the prosecution, testified that bondsman Bobby Cox asked him to kill the prosecutor, star witness and burn down the county courthouse. The defense claimed that all of Tyler’s statements were lies.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Either Ron “Bear” Tyler, a super-sized prosecution witness from the netherworld of bounty hunters, felons, drugs and biker hitmen, was lying through his unruly walrus moustache Friday or else bail bondsman Bobby Junior Cox recruited him to kill prosecutor Lona McCastlain and star witness Ronald Adams and to burn down the Lonoke County Courthouse.

Lying is exactly what Tyler was doing, according to defense attorney Mark Hampton, who is not only on the defense team for former Lonoke police chief Jay Campbell, his wife Kelly Campbell and Cox in this sprawling corruption trial, but who previously defended and befriended Tyler, who still considers him his attorney.

“Your honor, that was perjured testimony my client just gave,” Hampton said when Tyler was excused from the hearing, which was held in the absence of the jury.

“Your honor, this is the train wreck we’ve feared from the beginning,” Cox’s lawyer, John Wesley Hall told Special Judge John Cole. “This goes to cumulative error.”

Hampton, Hall and Patrick Benca said they had scant advance warning about Tyler’s testimony and would need a delay of weeks to effectively defend against it.

“The state can’t drop this on us at 9:10 in the morning,” said Hall.

McCastlain said she had told the defense all along that Adams’ life had been threatened.

Without a long continuance, the defense attorneys want a mistrial or the severance of Cox’s trial from that of the Campbells.
Cole denied—for now, he said—motions for both.

Cox is not charged with trying to solicit arson or murder, but the state is introducing 404B evidence in support of the overriding charges against the three defendants of participating in a continuing criminal enterprise. Jay Campbell is charged as the kingpin of that enterprise.

The defense attorneys say Tyler is unreliable, untruthful and that his testimony would prejudice the jury against their clients far in excess of its value to the prosecution.

On any other day, Cole’s decision to replace a juror who thought he had seen someone with a bugging device standing near Jay Campbell would have been the big news.

On any other day, the testimony that Cox, fellow bail bondsman Larry Norwood and his son Goose Norwood had pistol whipped the father of two men wanted for skipping out on bonds might have been the story’s lede.

But on this day, Tyler owned the witness stand, which he filled with bulk, swagger, folksy humor, menace and startling testimony.

It’s still undecided whether or not Tyler will take the stand again to repeat his testimony, this time before the jury.

Hall said if Tyler testifies before the jury, he would call his defense teammate Hampton to impeach that testimony. One possible outcome is that Tyler will testify but that the Cox trial will be severed from the Campbell trial, with one or the other continuing with the same jury and the other reset for a new trial, according to lawyers on both sides.

Hall said he would need four to six weeks to investigate Tyler, his background and his allegations, including whether or not he ever talked to the FBI in Dallas.

“This is so explosive and we’ve got no opportunity to defend,” Hall told the judge.

Tyler said he was imprisoned seven times since 1977, when he was hired to steal the remains of Elvis Presley. He said Hell’s Angels killed his mother and shot his children.

He said Cox had asked him to kill Adams and driven with him to the man’s house to case it, and also to McCastlain’s house.
Cox, Jay Campbell and Norwood are charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, and Adams was the meth cook in that conspiracy.

The prosecution alleges that Campbell and the bail bondsmen cooked up a scheme for Adams to cook meth to sell to a second convicted criminal so they could arrest him and try to make him give up a friend who had fled leaving Cox and Norwood holding the bag for a $130,000 bond.

McCastlain said if Adams had been killed before he testified, the state’s case would have fallen apart.

He told McCastlain that he didn’t want to kill anyone and that he made contact with an FBI agent in Dallas to report Cox’s alleged solicitation.

On cross-examination, Tyler told Hall that people had solicited him to kill people four or five times.
“Have you ever killed anyone,” Hall asked.

Tyler refused to answer.

“I have a right to ask,” said Hall.

“You have a right to kiss my ass,” said Tyler.

After conferring with a court appointed attorney during a recess, Tyler returned to the stand where he apologized, saying “You can get on edge when you’re going to put the heat on someone.”

“Have you ever taken money to kill someone?” Hall asked.

“I take the fifth amendment,” said Tyler.

“Have you taken money to beat someone?”

Again he invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. He admitted setting fires for profit because, he said, the statute of limitations was passed. “I have burned down several places.”

Tyler, who was kicked out of the witness-protection program, once got his mail at Hampton’s address and the attorney was surprised to find that Tyler also used that address on his driver’s license. Tyler had embraced Hampton’s father Friday morning before the trial.

Tyler testified that he’d known Cox for years and knew Jay and Kelly “from the street.” He said he had met them several times at Hampton’s office.

But Benca, Jay Campbell’s lawyer, said Tyler had misidentified both Campbells Friday when asked to point them out from the witness stand. Outside the courtroom, Tyler said he testified against his old friend Bobby Cox because “it’s the right thing to do.”