Miss. Appeals Court upholds bigamy conviction

Published 4:41 pm Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the bigamy conviction of David Butt, rejecting the man’s arguments that he wasn’t subject to Mississippi law because his second marriage took place in Tennessee.

Butt was convicted in Mississippi’s Forrest County Circuit Court in 2006 of bigamy and two counts of false pretense. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

According to the court record, Butt and Margaret Corley met in 1998 in Forrest County, where both were living. In 1999, the couple was married in Sevierville, Tenn., where they stayed for a week and then returned to their home in Petal.

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About three months later, Margaret suffered a stroke and Butt persuaded her to withdraw funds from her individual retirement account and let him invest the funds in an account that would earn her more money. Court records show Butt converted $57,500 to his own use and fled.

On Aug. 29, 2003, after David failed to return home, Margaret reported him missing to Petal police.

Police discovered that David Butt was actually David Burnett, who was from Florida and had been missing since 1998. David Burnett had been married to Pamela Dwyer for almost 10 years when, in 1998, he mysteriously disappeared while out on a shrimp boat.

In 2002, because he never returned, Pam had a court declare David dead, thereby ending their marriage.

Butt was arrested on Nov. 16, 2005, in Oregon while driving Margaret’s truck.

On appeal, Butt claimed Mississippi could not pursue a bigamy charge because the marriage took place in Tennessee.

Appeals Judge David Anthony Chandler, writing Tuesday for the court, said that under state law, when a crime starts in Mississippi and continues out of state, an accused may be indicted and tried in the county in which an offense began.

“It is clear from the testimony that David, while at home in Forrest County, planned to take Margaret out of state to marry her,” Chandler wrote. “At no point did David plan to remain in Tennessee, and he and Margaret only stayed there for a week after the marriage ceremony and then returned to their home in Forrest County. They then lived in Forrest County for the next four years until David’s disappearance.”

The Appeals Court also rejected Butt’s argument that the trial judge should not have allowed his first wife, Pamela Dwyer, to testify because one spouse cannot be compelled to testify against another.

Chandler said Dwyer was a former spouse when she testified and state law does not prevent former spouses from testifying against one another.

The Appeals Court also rejected Butt’s argument that the money in Margaret’s accounts were jointly held, so he was not stealing the money. Butt said the trial judge erred in not allowing him to argue that to the Forrest County jury.

Candler said the evidence was clear that Margaret owned the IRA and Butt did not have her permission to use the money for himself.

“Instead of reinvesting the money for her, however, he used $50,000 to temporarily open another account titled solely in his name and then withdrew all of the funds,” Chandler said. “He then withdrew another $7,500 of the IRA funds from the joint checking account. David did all this while Margaret expected him to fulfill his promise of opening another investment account for her retirement.”