Thursday, February 17, 2005

U.S. ATTORNEY, EXPERT TESTIFY AT SMITH TRIAL

U.S. ATTORNEY, EXPERT TESTIFY AT SMITH TRIAL

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2005 at 4:00 AM

The federal court trial of former medical examiner Dr. O.C. Smith took another strange twist Thursday as Terry Harris, the United States attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, testified under subpoena as a witness for the prosecution.

Harris was on the stand for more than 40 minutes and somewhat upstaged the day’s most celebrated witness, Dr. Park Dietz, an expert in staged crimes who has testified at numerous high-profile trials.

Dietz drew the media cameras after his testimony about “factitious victimization,” which he described as a mental disorder that makes otherwise normal people do strange things to attract attention. Smith is accused of lying about an incident in June, 2002 when he was found bound in barbed wire with a bomb around his neck.

“Denial is the common response when confronted,” Dietz said.

But it was Harris who may have made the greater impression on the jury. The defense team let Dietz go with a couple of perfunctory questions about his firm’s fees for its help on the case ($32,000) and a reference to an error Dietz made while testifying in the Andrea Yates case. Dietz had already explained the error under questioning by the prosecution.

The Harris testimony was possibly more significant because he has been a friend of Smith for several years, including 14 years as a county prosecutor before he became United States attorney.

Harris seemed prepared to simply tell the jury why his office was recused due to the association of several attorneys with Smith. He wound up testifying in detail about his meeting with Smith the day of the attack and the reasons why Smith went from victim to suspect.

“I was afraid he was going to be in much worse condition,” Harris said about Smith’s physical appearance when they met about six hours after the attack. “I was relieved to see he was not in terrible shape.”

It was several months later that Smith became a suspect.

“There were inconsistencies and he needed to be looked at seriously as a suspect,” Harris said.

In cross-examination, defense attorney Jim Garts asked Harris about the liquid that was supposedly thrown at Smith to temporarily blind him. The defense has hammered on that point in its cross-examination of forensic specialists whom it has tried to discredit.

Prosecutor Bud Cummins then followed up by asking Harris if there were other things that made Smith a suspect. Garts objected, but Cummins argued that Garts “opened the door,” and U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald allowed him to continue his questioning. He then got Harris to reply “yes” to a series of questions about the absence of torn clothes, serious injuries, lack of resistance, and inconsistent statements as other factors that made Smith a suspect.

The upshot was that the jury wound up hearing a highly credible, somewhat reluctant prosecutor with first-hand knowledge of Smith’s appearance and explanation from the day of the crime describe what he knows. Previous witnesses included forensic specialists who looked only at pictures or pieces of clothing. Their testimony was rebutted at length by Garts and his colleague Gerald Easter.

Harris left the courtroom unscathed.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

LOGAN YOUNG AFTERMATH

LOGAN YOUNG AFTERMATH

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Advice to crooked football boosters: Pay the player, not his coach, and you’ll at least stay out of federal court.

Public school teacher/coach Lynn Lang was a “necessary component” of the federal government’s case against Logan Young Jr., U.S. Attorney Terry Harris said Thursday, shortly after U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen sent jurors home and gaveled the proceedings to a close.

Had Young, a 64-year-old University of Alabama booster, sent then-high school lineman Albert Means or his mother $150,000, he would have gotten himself and Means in a world of trouble with the NCAA but not the feds. Instead, Harris and fellow state and federal prosecutors decided in 2001 to criminalize dirty football recruiting and indict “public officials” Lynn Lang and Milton Kirk, leaving them little choice but to also indict Logan Young.

On Wednesday, Young was convicted on all counts of a three-count indictment alleging that he bribed Lang to obtain the services of Means at Alabama. Jurors were held over one more day to consider a forfeiture issue and decided to dock Young $96,100, payable to the United States of America. Adding insult to injury, they took almost as long to decide the forfeiture issue as they did the guilty verdict -- and added a few more thousands to Young’s sizable legal bill in the process.

“It’s wrong to buy and sell 18-year-old student athletes and wrong to bribe a public school teacher,” said Harris. “When recruiting matters extend into criminal acts then they should be prosecuted.”

Young and jurors left the federal building without talking to reporters. Young’s sentencing is set for May 5th. Lang will be sentenced February 7th.

Lang faces up to five years in prison and Young up to 15 years, although the booster is likely to get something less than five years under federal sentencing guidelines. The fact that Young went to trial while Lang cooperated with the government will be part of the guidelines, Harris said.

The verdict was a setback for Young and his famous defense attorney, Jim Neal of Nashville. Friends of Neal said he has told them this would be his last case as lead counsel, although Neal did not say that himself.

Neal began his career as a federal prosecutor 45 years ago. Considering Young’s wealth and Neal’s skill, Harris and his staff were well aware of what they were up against. Prosecutors Fred Godwin and Jerry Kitchen let Harris do the post-trial talking, but another attorney in the office said the word around the federal building Wednesday after the verdict was announced was that “two ex-cops who went to night school beat Jim Neal.” On football signing day, no less. Internet guru Roy Adams wore his orange blazer to court in celebration. University of Tennessee football coach Philip Fulmer got a raise.

Neal had a bad hand and Godwin and Kitchen had a good one, but they all still had to play it out. Young did not testify, leaving the jury with no picture other than a rich guy who by his own lawyers’ admission drinks and talks and spends too much and cares way too much about college football and didn’t testify in his own defense. In hindsight, it’s hard to see how things could have been much worse by putting him on the stand.

Godwin did the dirty work and he did it well. He destroyed defense witness Ivy Williams, wrung a self-pitying statement (“not enough” as to his pay) out of former Georgia football coach Jim Donnan and exploited it perfectly, and possibly kept the defense from calling other witnesses -- not that any of them would have helped. Most important, he kept the jury focused on the circumstantial connections between Young and the admittedly sleazy Lang. In closing argument, Godwin and Kitchen reminded the jury that secrecy and sleaze are by definition the guts of a bribe, and that point seems to have won the day.

The defense, on the other hand, offered the jury no alternative explanation. Out of the jury’s presence, they left the strong impression that their best hope was to get the case thrown out of court because Lang was not influenced in the performance of his public duties. They argued the point incessantly and likely will bring it up again on appeal. Plan B was to beat up Lang, but he’s built for it and took it fairly well. Plan C was to appeal to the jury’s interpretation of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and make lots of statements about the most important decisions in your own life but that one, too, was pancaked.

Jurors took barely half a day to make a decision to send Logan Young off to contemplate how he will face the autumn of his years in a federal prison because of his overzealousness in determining how an overrated defensive lineman named Albert Means would spend his autumns in Tuscaloosa.

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