Voter fraud process continues

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; Statements given by the five defendants accused of tampering with absentee ballots in the 2004 Ferriday mayoral election will be allowed as evidence at the March 6 trial, Judge Sharon Marchman ruled in a motion hearing Friday.

Counsel for the five defendants, Justin Conner, Willie Robinson, James Skipper, Emerson Slain and Henrietta Williams, had filed a motion to have investigator Stephen Watts&8217; reports of his interviews suppressed.

Assistant Attorney General Butch Wilson, who is leading the prosecution, put Watts on the stand and established that each of the statements had been voluntary, no coercion or pressure had been exerted and that none of the reports he produced contained accusations against any co-defendants.

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The defense, led by Sam Thomas, questioned Watts on his interview practices, but the line was objected to on the grounds that the hearing was to determine the admissibility, not the strength of the evidence.

Marchman agreed and denied the motion.

The motion had been brought by Derrick Carson, who is serving as counsel for Skipper. Skipper gave his statement from prison, and Carson was concerned he may not have fully understood his rights on the time.

This same concern is at the heart of a motion to quash handwriting exemplars submitted by the defendants to Watts. The motion will be heard in a March 3 hearing.

Skipper&8217;s prior arrest record and his current status as an inmate at Hunt Correctional Facility will not be made known to the jury during the trial, Marchman said.

Wilson said the state&8217;s witnesses would be told not to bring up either matter.

As part of the effort to consolidate all five cases into one trial, Wilson presented a new bill of evidence into the record.

The bill contains 57 counts between the five defendants. All of the charges concern absentee ballots allegedly obtained, forged and submitted on behalf of Estella, Lillie and Frederick White.

Williams&8217; charges also include several surrounding the absentee ballot of Maude Lee Williams.

After the hearing, Marchman explained her decision to have the 200 subpoenas delivered by hand.

&8220;This is a high profile trial, and we need a large pool of jurors,&8221; she said.

She said people are more likely to answer a court summons when it is delivered by a sheriff&8217;s deputy.

Those failing to show up at that appointed time March 6 are subject to an array of disciplinary measures, Marchman said, including contempt of court charges.

&8220;I don&8217;t want to do it,&8221; she said. &8220;But it was the only way to get enough people to come.&8221;