Trial pushed back

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 7, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; All parties in the voter fraud case will try again Wednesday.

The trial of one of the defendants, Henrietta Williams, was scheduled to begin Monday, but was pushed back until Wednesday to allow counsel to review jury questionnaires and argue several motions filed that the morning.

Who will go on trial Wednesday is still questionable. It may be Williams first, or it may be the other four &8212; Justin Conner, Emerson Slain, Willie Robinson and James Skipper.

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All are accused of forging and filing false absentee ballots in the 2004 mayoral and school board election.

&8220;Right now, it is the state&8217;s election to try Henrietta Williams, but there&8217;s a possibility, if for whatever reason that doesn&8217;t happen, the other four will go on trial,&8221; lead prosecutor Butch Wilson said Monday.

&8220;Somebody&8217;s going to trial Wednesday.&8221;

Wilson and the attorney general&8217;s office decided to try Williams separately from the other four defendants to make things easier for the jury.

All five are facing 15 counts of making or authenticating, filing and conspiring to file false absentee ballot affidavits in the name of Estella and Lillie White.

Williams also faces a sole charge of filing a false absentee ballot affidavit in the name of Maude Williams.

The potential confusion of trying Williams on the additional count &8212; and the potential implied guilt it could cast on the other defendants &8212; led to the separate trial.

&8220;It&8217;s easier and less confusing for the jury,&8221; said David Caldwell, who is assisting Wilson.

The jury in question will be selected Wednesday morning. Two hundred people were served hand-delivered subpoenas for jury duty. They were told to report again at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

William&8217;s attorney, Robert Yarbrough, said he did not know if his client would stand trial first or not.

Three of the defendants &8212; Conner, Robinson and Williams &8212; face six additional fraud charges relating to the ballot of Frederick White.

Those charges will not be a part of either trial, however, as the state said it received the results of the handwriting exemplars and other materials just last week.

The charges still stand, however, and the attorney general&8217;s office can choose to pursue them at a later date.

Frederick White will still be called as a factual witness relating to Estella and Lillie White&8217;s ballots, but the matter of his own ballot may not be brought up, ad hoc judge Sharon Marchman ruled.

The crux of whatever trial begins Wednesday will be the testimony of each side&8217;s handwriting expert.

Sam Thomas, lead attorney for the defense, said after the hearing that the defendants&8217; expert witness found the signatures on the disputed ballots to be authentic.

&8220;And if the signatures are authentic, there&8217;s no fraud,&8221; he said.

Not so fast, Caldwell said. The prosecution&8217;s expert is expected to testify that the signatures of Estella and Lillie White are dubious.

&8220;Handwriting is not like DNA or fingerprinting,&8221; he said. &8220;There are variances that it will be up to the jury to decide.&8221;