Jury selection to begin in Jackson mayor’s trial

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jury selection in the first of several trials for Jackson Mayor Frank Melton begins Tuesday, with the political future of the tough-talking former television executive to be decided in a Hinds County courtroom.

Melton will be tried first in Hinds County Circuit Court on a felony count of carrying a concealed firearm. A guilty verdict would force the first-term mayor from office and could send him to prison for as long as three years.

Another trial on misdemeanor weapons violations will follow.

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Melton defeated two-term Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. in 2005 with a pledge to clean up the city and reduce crime. He become a pistol-packing fixture on nightly newscasts as he lambasted the district attorney’s office and the criminals he said were destroying the capital city.

He has since been silenced by a gag order.

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.

The jury selection that begins Tuesday is part of the trial involving the most serious charge — that on Feb. 28 Melton carried a gun onto the campus of the Mississippi College School of Law. The gag order by Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green prevents Melton’s lawyers and prosecutors from discussing the merits of the case.

Melton’s lead attorney, former Jackson Mayor Dale Danks Jr., said Monday that his co-counsel, Houston attorney Craig Washington, won’t be here for the first trial.

Washington, who has served in both chambers of the Texas Legislature and in the U.S. House, is tied up with a capital murder case in Texas.

“We were aware of that possibility by virtue of the fact that he was in that trial,” Danks told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper. “We’ve been preparing based on that possibility.”

Witnesses will likely include a law student as well as Robert Davis, director of the Office of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, which oversees the training of police officers throughout the state.

Jackson City Council member Frank Bluntson, a longtime friend of the mayor, has said he expects he will be called as a character witness.

Once the weapons charges are resolved, Melton and his two Jackson Police Department bodyguards will face a jury on several felony charges for their alleged role in smashing up a duplex in northwest Jackson on Aug. 26. Melton has said the home was a drug haven.