Friday, May 16, 2008

Prosecution Rests; Defense Calls Ford's Wife

Posted By on Fri, May 16, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Edmund Ford's wife of 29 years took the witness stand Friday in the former city councilman’s bribery trial in federal court.

Myrna Ford was soft-spoken and smiled pleasantly at jurors, her husband on the other side of the courtroom, and their three children in the spectators' section during an hour of mostly gentle questioning.

She told defense attorney Michael Scholl and jurors that she and her husband have a close marriage and are "one" for business purposes in the strenuous life of running a sometimes struggling funeral home. She said she does several business "multitasks" while Edmund does the embalming. "He has a gift," she said.

Prosecutor Tom Colthurst had just begun his cross-examination when the trial was adjourned for the weekend at noon because of a previous commitment of U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays. It is not certain that Ford will take the stand himself, although Scholl has said he will. The case is expected to go to the jury Tuesday. Mays denied a routine motion for dismissal of the case Friday and said there is enough evidence to send it to the jury.

Myrna Ford said she has known Joe Cooper, the government's star witness, for about 15 years. In recent years, she said, his visits to the funeral home became so frequent that one employee suggested someone "needed to give him an office."

Earlier this week, Cooper testified and narrated videotapes he secretly made of himself making $8,900 in payments to Ford in 2006. Myrna Ford said she was not present when those payments were made but deposited the proceeds in a bank account to invest in a downpayment on the couple's new funeral home. She said the business often deals in cash.

Her final statement to defense attorney Scholl was "I love my husband but I fear God more."

Under cross-examination, she said the funeral home declared bankruptcy three times, in 1997, 1998, and 1999, and they did not file tax returns from 2002-2005. Ford was elected to the city council in 2000. Colthurst got Mrs. Ford to admit that the Fords would have had to produce tax returns to get conventional financing for the new funeral home. Instead they went to developer Jackie Welch, who has not been charged with anything although his name has come up several times along with Rusty Hyneman.

Earlier Friday, the government rested its case after calling a city official to verify that the Office of Planning and Development and Land Use Control Board both rejected applicant William Thomas' attempt to put billboards and storage facilities on a site near Interstate 240 and Steve Road. Cooper was the lobbyist for Thomas before the Memphis City Council.

Myrna Ford's testimony contrasted sharply with Cooper's sometimes emotional testimony and testy exchanges with Scholl. The defense strategy appears to be to put Cooper, a two-time loser on federal charges, "on trial" against the Ford "team."

The trial seems a bit anticlimactic now that the Tennessee Waltz trials have come to an end and Ford and Rickey Peete are no longer on the city council. Peete pleaded guilty to charges similar to the ones Ford is facing and has gone to prison, but the jury has not been told about that and prosecutors are not supposed to bring it up.

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