Jury seated in Jackson mayor’s firearm trial

Published 5:10 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Opening arguments begin Wednesday in the trial of Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, who faces a felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon onto a college campus.

A jury of 12 people with two alternates was seated Tuesday out of a pool of 650.

This could be the first of several trials for Melton. He is accused of carrying a gun Feb. 28 onto the campus of the Mississippi College School of Law.

A guilty verdict would force the first-term mayor from office and could send him to prison for as long as three years.

A gag order by Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green prevents Melton’s lawyers and prosecutors from discussing the merits of the case.

Potential jurors were asked Tuesday if they had ever been gun owners or crime victims. Green warned the members of the jury pool that they would be sequestered and should pack for three days.

After this case is resolved, Melton faces trial on two misdemeanor weapons violations.

The 57-year-old was indicted Sept. 15 by a grand jury convened specifically to hear evidence brought by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson.

Peterson later brought unrelated charges against Melton and his two Jackson Police Department bodyguards for their alleged role in smashing up a duplex in northwest Jackson on Aug. 26. Melton has said the home was a drug haven, a notion the property owners deny. They also have filed a lawsuit against Melton.

A trial date in those cases have not been set.

Melton defeated two-term Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. in 2005 with a pledge to clean up the city and reduce crime.

Witnesses that could be called include Joe Jackson, director of the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy, and Robert Davis, director of the Office of Law Enforcement Standards and Training. They are expected to testify on whether the mayor has police training.

Jackson Police Sgt. William Gladney of the department’s vice and narcotics unit likely will testify on Melton’s behalf.