Miss. mayor willing to testify for co-defendant

Published 1:29 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

Embattled Jackson Mayor Frank Melton says he’s willing to testify that one of his bodyguards, a co-defendant in a federal criminal trial, did not participate in the sledge hammer attack on a house the mayor called a drug den.

Melton, 59, and two police bodyguards were charged in July with the 2006 destruction of a duplex that the mayor considered a haven for illegal activity. One of the bodyguards, Marcus Wright, struck a deal with prosecutors last week and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

The other bodyguard, Michael Recio, asked the court Monday for the second time to be tried separately from Melton. Melton and Recio have pleaded not guilty. Recio wants to call Melton to testify and he believes that having a separate trial is the best way to make that happen.

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In a signed affidavit submitted Monday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, the mayor said he would testify that, “At no time did Michael Recio participate in any way in any activity aimed at the destruction of the house or did he participate in any official observation of the events in question.”

One line of the mayor’s affidavit is scratched out, but still legible: “At a joint trial, I do not know whether I would exercise my rights under the 5th amendment of the United States Constitution not to incriminate myself or not.”

Melton’s attorney, former state Rep. John Reeves, said Tuesday he could not comment because of a gag order in the case. Recio’s lawyer did not respond to a message left at her office.

Scot Montrey, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, would not comment on the motion.

Melton and the bodyguards were indicted on charges they violated the civil rights of the home’s owner and the man who rented it. They were accused of taking a group of young men to the duplex in a mobile police command center and using sticks and sledgehammers to knock out walls and windows.

The mayor has claimed the home was a crack house rented by a known drug addict and was a blight on the community. The government, however, wants to limit testimony that the house was a drug den because prosecutors believe that would hurt their case.

In his affidavit, Melton reiterates his belief that as mayor he is “in charge of safe neighborhood enforcement.”

The mayor’s affidavit acknowledges that Recio and Recio’s teenage son were at the scene, but says they did not help damage the home.

In a deal with prosecutors, Wright pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. He’s likely to testify against the mayor.

Melton, a former television executive and one-time head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, was elected by a landslide in 2005 on a tough-on-crime platform but soon ran into trouble for his unorthodox tactics. Melton and the bodyguards were acquitted last year on state charges related to the same damage at the duplex.