Judge to decide on evidence

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, February 20, 2008

WOODVILLE — When the long-running Wilkinson County election contest resumes Thursday morning, Judge Jim Persons will decide whether or not to allow the use of paper ballots as evidence in the case.

Representing supervisor candidate Kirk Smith, attorney Ben Piazza Jr. asked Persons to consider throwing out the absentee, affidavit and curbside ballots before they were admitted as evidence because he believed they could have been compromised.

“These boxes, bags and ballots have lost their integrity to the point of their having any evidentiary value,” Piazza said.

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One of the reasons Piazza gave was because Circuit Clerk Mon Cree Allen, who is involved in the contest, was the custodian for the ballots.

Piazza also cited testimony from earlier in the trial regarding irregularities in the certification of the votes, which he contended would render the ballots tainted.

For those reasons, Piazza asked Persons to only consider the machine ballots from the election.

When Persons asked if the machine ballots were already in evidence, Piazza said based on previous testimony and an unofficial machine vote count the machine votes already were in evidence.

Allen released the unofficial machine count on election night.

But Supervisor candidate Richard Hollins’ attorney Carroll Rhodes objected to that, because it is the responsibility for the party executive committee to declare results for a primary, and not the circuit clerk’s, he said.

“Those results are in the boxes,” Rhodes said. “Since November we haven’t had a ballot or (official) tally sheet introduced into evidence.”

Piazza said to introduce the ballots into evidence would implicitly give them validity.

“All of the contents must be disregarded because the integrity of those boxes cannot be established,” Piazza said. “We can’t establish a chain of custody.”

Persons said he was hesitant to consider Piazza’s request because it could very well be case determining.

“Clearly there has been testimony about the validity of the paper ballots, but that does not mean all of the ballots are illegal,” Persons said.

The court also heard continued testimony by Centreville resident Mary “Suzy” Daughdrill.

When questioned by Rhodes about threats of arrest, Daughdrill said she did not receive any of those threats herself, and that the alleged threat of arrest was relayed to her by a third party on the night of Sept. 5.

On Sept. 6, the white members of the Wilkinson County Democratic Executive Committee first congregated at Newman’s funeral home and then moved to the courthouse for a meeting because they reportedly feared arrest, though Daughdrill said no law enforcement officers were present at the courthouse at that time.

Daughdrill also said she did not call any law enforcement officers to prevent any unlawful arrest because she did not feel it was her duty.

Rhodes also questioned her about returned certified letters, purportedly sent to eight black members of the committee.

Of those, one was unsendable because the recipient did not have a mail receptacle, and seven were unclaimed, Daughdrill said.

The attorneys examined past committee records Daughdrill presented them that showed that it was not necessarily past practice to have a majority of the members of the committee to approve elections.

Both white and black members of the committee were placed on the election approval subcommittees in the old records.

The matter will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.