Miss. mayor’s trial delayed until February

Published 11:08 pm Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mayor Frank Melton suffered from heart failure last week and needs time to recover before standing trial in the sledgehammer destruction of an alleged crack house, a judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III postponed the trial, which had been scheduled to begin Monday, until Feb. 2.

“In this case, there is no dispute that Mr. Melton is just one week removed from congestive heart failure,” the judge wrote. “His heart is objectively weakened; he is not feigning injury.”

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The 59-year-old mayor has a history of heart problems. He was hospitalized in November with an aneurism and again last week with heart failure, according to court records. He had bypass surgery in 2007.

Melton and his former police bodyguard face maximum 25-year sentences if convicted on three counts related to the destruction of a duplex the mayor considered a haven for illegal activity. Melton has said they did nothing wrong.

Jordan held a closed-door hearing Monday to evaluate Melton’s health.

Two of the mayor’s doctors testified that his “noncompliance with doctors’ orders has significantly contributed to his condition but that he has been compliant since his recent hospitalizations,” the records show.

Jordan asked an independent cardiologist, Dr. J. Murray Estess, to review Melton’s medical records.

Estess “testified that he did not perceive a substantial danger of an acute event, but that if Mr. Melton did not improve his physical strength, there was a likelihood of heart failure that would interrupt the trial,” Jordan wrote. The doctor said “a period of four to six weeks of cardiac rehabilitation combined with compliant use of his medications would improve Mr. Melton’s chances of completing an event-free trial.”

The judge ordered Melton to take his medication as prescribed and comply with doctors’ orders. He ordered the doctors to let him know if Melton doesn’t do as he’s told.

Melton is still mayor, but is working from home most of the time, according to court records. He appeared thinner than usual and short of breath during a news conference Tuesday to discuss crime in the city.

The judge wrote in Wednesday’s order that Melton made comments at the news conference about the trial and reminded him a gag order is in place.

“Mr. Melton is advised that no further violations will be tolerated and that future infractions will lead to proceedings for contempt of court,” he wrote.

Among other things, Melton acknowledged Tuesday that he made mistakes, but called them “mistakes of passion.”

He was elected on a promise to stamp out crime in Mississippi’s largest city.

“People tell you they want to get something done and when you get it done they criticize the way you do it,” Melton said. “It’s human nature.”

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.

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