Prosecutors with the Justice Department are contemplating their next move after the jury in Alabama’s gambling corruption trial returned no guilty verdicts. The partial verdict still leaves VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor and six others facing unresolved charges. While defense lawyers were glad to have acquittals on some counts, WBHM’s Andrew Yeager reports they’re still gearing up for what could be another court battle.
Milton McGregor defense attorney Joe Espy has maintained his client’s innocence from the beginning. He hammered away that the government had no case. That spirit was somewhat muted as he left the federal courthouse in Montgomery yesterday.
“I’m disappointed any time I don’t win it 100%.”
But the lack of convictions brought a silver lining.
“I’m very pleased with where we are. We walk in the courtroom and every defendant walks out.”
Two of the defendants will be able to walk away from the courtroom for good. The jury acquitted long-time Montgomery lobbyist Robert Geddie and State Senator Quinton Ross of all charges. Geddie says he’s sadden others weren’t acquitted, but he’s thankful. Ross expressed specific appreciation.
“To God be the glory. It is well with my soul.”
The seven remaining defendants, including Milton McGregor, received not guilty verdicts on some counts. The judge declared a mistrial on the remaining counts where the jury couldn’t reach a decision.
Former Federal Judge John Carroll says he isn’t surprised by the mixed verdict or the lack of convictions. He says the government had an uphill climb from the beginning. That’s because the case was about using campaign contributions to buy and sell votes in the Alabama legislature.
“When you’re dealing with campaign contributions, there’s a significant amount of the population that thinks all politicians get that kind of money so why should you find these people guilty? What’d they do different?”
Carroll says the law is vague on when a campaign contribution constitutes a bribe. Plus this particular case was complex with 9 defendants and a 65 page indictment.
A statement from a Justice Department spokeswoman simply thanked the jury for its service and says prosecutors will discuss their next steps. Those next steps could be a retrial of the seven who still face unresolved counts. While federal attorneys have not said if they will pursue such a move, the judge in the case says he expects to set a new date for trial within a month. Defense Attorney Susan James says if that happens, they’ll be in a good position. That’s because the defense rested after calling just one witness.
“They’ve not heard a bit of our case. We’ve heard pretty much all their case. And while they’ll try to tighten theirs up if they go forward, we’ve got some work to do.”
However, John Carroll says the government generally has the upper hand in a retrial. And he thinks that applies here too, despite the defense strategy.
“So they still have witnesses in reserve that they didn’t present, but still the government now knows where the weaknesses are in their cross examination. Knows where their weaknesses are in their case. And I think has a little bit of a leg up in a retrial.”
Carroll says if there’s a takeaway from this trial, it’s a reminder public corruption cases are very hard for the government to win.
“There’s rarely the sort of ‘smoking gun’ evidence that you’d want to have in a case like this.”
Carroll points out that while the first corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich ended in a deadlock on all but one count, the jury returned guilty verdicts in the second. Defense attorneys will do all they can to see that doesn’t happen in Alabama.