Deliberation continues in Melton trial

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 21, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — Jury deliberations are set to continue Saturday in the federal trial of Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, accused in the sledgehammer destruction of a duplex he considered a crack house.

Melton and his former police bodyguard, Michael Recio, are charged with three felonies each for leading a group of young men in August 2006 to use sticks and sledgehammers to damage the home.

Melton says he was only trying to rid the city of a haven of illegal activity. Prosecutors say he was drunk that night and went on a vigilante raid.

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Melton looked calm leaving court Friday night but did not comment. His attorney, John Reeves, said the judge reiterated that a gag order is still in place.

Deliberations began Wednesday afternoon. Jurors said Thursday they were at an impasse, but the judge told them to try to reach a verdict. It’s not clear how the jury was split because the judge asked them not to say. They have since asked for copies of testimony from several witnesses and for extra copies of the jury instructions.

Matt Steffey, a law professor at Mississippi College who is following the case, said the jurors appear to be working toward a decision since they have been asking for evidence and only said they were at an impasse once.

‘‘The jurors’ body language wasn’t hardened hostility to one another,’’ Steffey said. ‘‘I think it’s more likely than not we’ll get a verdict on some of the charges.’’

Melton, 59, and Recio, 39, are charged with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the home’s owner and tenant. They are also charged with violating those rights under color of law and using a firearm in a crime of violence.

The judge has not indicated how long he wants the jury to continue deliberating but said significant time and expense had been invested in the trial and he urged them to try to come to a decision without compromising what they believe.

Melton and Recio were acquitted of state charges related to the same incident in April 2007. The scene outside the federal courthouse has been much calmer than during the state trial, when large crowds, many carrying signs in support of Melton, gathered.

Ben Ivey, a 24-year-old artist from the Jackson suburb of Clinton, passed out a few T-shirts Friday that he emblazoned with a stencil-painted portrait of Melton and the slogan ‘‘FREE FRANK.’’

Ivey said liked the way Melton was ‘‘going to clean up Jackson.’’

Melton, a former television executive, was elected in 2005 after running on a tough-on-crime platform.