Witness: Mayor was drinking when duplex attacked

Published 11:28 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Frank Melton had been drinking heavily in the hours before he ordered an attack on a duplex, a key witness testified Tuesday at the mayor’s trial on federal civil rights charges.

Melton’s former bodyguard Marcus Wright told a federal jury that the mayor was mixing large amounts of scotch with some water when he ordered an unplanned stop at a Jackson residence he believed to be a drug den.

After shattering windows in the duplex, Wright said Melton approached a group of nearby residents and said: “I want to show these (expletive) people I’m not playing with them.”

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The testimony of Wright, who had faced the same charges as Melton and his other bodyguard Michael Recio before taking a plea deal, was the most anticipated of the trial. Authorities said Wright witnessed both attacks at the duplex allegedly orchestrated by Melton and a group of teenagers on Aug. 26, 2006.

Wright said the mayor showed a pattern of disdain for the law as Melton previously ordered other structures around Jackson destroyed before the duplex attack and had no legal reason to enter or destroy the structure.

At one point during the first visit to the address in the early evening, Wright said he told Melton it was time to leave. When Melton asked why, Wright said: “Because it’s wrong. You need to get out of here.”

Wright said he got a call later in the evening to return to the address, but did so with dread. He testified that after the teenagers destroyed the front of the building and ransacked the interior, Melton turned to a crowd of people watching and shouted: “Is there anything else you want me to tear down?”

Wright will be cross-examined Wednesday by defense attorneys for Melton and Recio. They face up to 25 years in prison on three counts of violating the civil rights of the rental property’s owner and her tenant. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Wright pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights and could still be sentenced to up to a year in jail. All three were acquitted of similar state charges in a jury trial.

The 32-year-old witness was forced to quit his job with the Jackson Police Department as part of the plea deal and now works for a trucking firm.

He testified to several key points of the prosecution’s case, saying the mayor participated in the demolition when he knocked out windows along the building side with a large stick.

Melton’s defense attorney has said that Melton did not break the windows, but instead was removing shards of glass that represented a danger to children.

“I was following him as he broke each and every window,” Wright told jurors.

He also said Melton also tried to smash a television as he walked through the house.

Wright also countered the defense’s argument that much of the apparent interior damage was there before the attack.

“It wasn’t the nicest house, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary,” he said. “There was no furniture overturned, no holes in the wall. It was in some kind of order.”

The second day of trial was delayed Tuesday morning by more accusations of witness tampering or intimidation.

Defense lawyers accused an FBI agent of having impermissible contact with witness Michael Taylor during a short recess. The accusation came a day after the prosecution said Melton tried to tamper with a witness by personally serving a subpoena.

Taylor denied having a conversation with the agent, James M. Foushee Jr. But Foushee acknowledged to escorting the young witness outside so the witness could smoke a cigarette and having a short conversation that did not involve trial matters, before cutting it off after realizing he shouldn’t be talking with Taylor.

The prosecution had asked that Melton’s bail be revoked but the judge did not rule on that verbal motion Tuesday morning. He requested a written motion for revocation be filed before he makes a decision.

The government says Melton tried to serve the subpoena on Evans Welch, the man who lived in the duplex Melton is accused of destroying.

Prosecutor Mark Blumberg would not say whether he will file the motion. Reeves sidestepped the issue while talking with reporters.

“I’m focusing on the trial right now,” Reeves said when asked about the potential for Melton’s bond to be revoked, “and not peripheral issues.”