Wednesday, July 6, 2011

BingoGate: Prosecution unprepared for defense team speed

image If the ongoing bingo corruption trial was a football game, you’d compare it to a talented, experienced and somewhat overconfident (some say arrogant) team from some Yankee state taking the field against a squad of SEC players with speed, talent and reputation that the prosecution never took seriously. Oddsmakers, seeing the matchup on paper, put the prosecution team as a heavy, early favorite and never looked back.

Oops. It’s midway through the first quarter and …  what’s that score again?

Several sources within the legal community tell IBCR that the prosecution started badly and has been trailing since day one. For starters, the very first witness for the prosecution—Gardendale Senator Scott Beason—had his clock cleaned by McGregor defense team member Bobby Segall over a racially explosive use of the term “aborigines” to describe Greene County residents. Beason was one of three legislators cooperating with federal authorities during the corruption investigation during the 2010 legislative session. He had worn a wire to a meeting Greene County is home to GreeneTrack, one of the gambling operations that would have seen its business take off if a gambling bill had passed the 2010 legislature. Greene County is a majority black county, and half of the jury hearing the case is black as well.

The prosecution should have seen that coming and should have prepared its witness a helluva lot better than it did. Witnesses say he was caught completely off-guard by the defense’s use of the remark, as well as their use of additional embarrassing exchanges between Beason and the other parties in a meeting he had secretly recorded for federal investigators. While the prosecution should have prepared him better, he could have prepared himself better as well. How smart is it to use racially insensitive remarks like while wearing a wire, knowing full well that the conversation would likely be played before a packed federal courtroom?

The righteous indignation from the left was predictable and noisy, with the entire Democrat apparatus of the state condemning Beason as a racist and demanding his resignation.

Several people—including one who has attended several days of testimony—have indicated that the prosecution may have already lost the jury and has a very long road ahead if they expect to obtain convictions on a majority of the counts in the case. There are several key witnesses remaining to take the stand, and the prosecution has so far revealed a small portion of the more than 12,000 voice and text conversations investigators collected during slightly more than four weeks of electronic surveillance. So while the prosecution again finds itself in a moment of peril, they are probably behind and will probably need a second half comeback to win.

When legal analysts go back to dissect this case, they will likely point to the Department of Justice making a change at the top of the prosecution’s trial team and identify it as a key development. Prior to March 30, the lead prosecutor for the case was Peter J. Ainsworth, one of DOJ’s top career prosecutors. But Ainsworth’s team badly bungled the process by which the prosecution was to turn over evidence it intended to use at trial, very nearly causing the case to be dismissed by an angry Magistrate Judge. Ainsworth was replaced by Justin Shur, another one of DOJ’s top guns in criminal trials. Shur’s late involvement in the case may have had him playing catch-up even as the jury was being struck. Instead of preparing witnesses and finishing pretrail preparations, he was getting up to speed on the intricacies of a very complex public corruption case.

Had he been the lead dog from day one, he might have been prepared enough to realize that Beason’s inflammatory comments were toxic to his case and done more the blunt the damage. Instead, the defense team used its speed, skill and agility to execute and end-around and put the prosecution in a hole.

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