Mayor cites health problems, asks to delay trial

Published 11:10 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jackson Mayor Frank Melton asked a federal judge Monday to delay his upcoming trial on felony civil rights charges because of concerns about his health.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III heard several hours of testimony from Melton’s doctors during a closed hearing and said he would rule Tuesday on the motion to continue the Jan. 5 trial.

Melton and his former police bodyguard face maximum 25-year sentences if convicted on three counts related to the sledgehammer destruction of a suspected crack house. Melton has said they did nothing wrong.

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The 59-year-old mayor has had heart problems in the past, but his attorney would not discuss Melton’s current ailments after the hearing.

Wearing a dark suit and red tie, Melton talked with reporters during a brief court recess and at times appeared short of breath. He also appeared thinner than in the past, the collar of his shirt hanging loose around his neck.

A lifelong swimmer, Melton said he often swam a mile a day, but became exhausted after a short dip last week and couldn’t get out of the pool on his own.

“Talk about being depressed,” Melton said.

The first-term mayor was hospitalized in November for an undisclosed surgery. A city councilman has said Melton was having problems with his defibrillator. Melton had bypass surgery in 2007 for congestive heart failure.

Melton’s lawyer, John Reeves, said the mayor was hesitant to ask for a delay in the trial “but is accepting his attorney’s judgment in the case.”

Prosecutors declined to comment. A gag order prohibits those involved from discussing the case in detail.

Melton’s health apparently has not forced him to give up his mayoral duties.

“He’s still the mayor,” Reeves said.

Melton is accused of leading a group of young men in August 2006 to destroy the duplex with sticks and sledgehammers. Melton has said the home was a blight on the community, a haven for prostitution and drug use.

He was cleared last year of state felony charges related to the incident.