Former planner found not guilty

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — Former City Planner John “Rusty” Lewis was found not guilty of simple assault by fear Tuesday in Adams County Justice Court.

Lewis was arrested on the misdemeanor charge last month in connection to an incident that reportedly happened one year ago, when Lewis was city planner.

Complainant J.T. Robinson said he filed charges because he was told that Lewis had reportedly threatened him.

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“He said he hated me and that he could kill me,” Robinson said in a previous report.

Robinson said the incident occurred at the Natchez Preservation Commission meeting, in a private room, with two witnesses.

Robinson did not hear the remark himself.

Robinson, former city land use planner Walter Huston and Eva Dunkley all testified against Lewis, but none of them could verify Lewis followed through with his threat, said Judge Charlie Vess, who delivered the verdict.

“To prove the charges, there had to be an overt act following the threat,” Vess said. “To prove beyond a reasonable doubt, you have to have some type of follow through.”

Vess said Robinson refused to identify the person who informed him of Lewis’ alleged threat.

“(Robinson) didn’t do it because he said the man’s job might be in jeopardy,” Vess said. “In an open court, you can’t hide evidence.”

Vess said threats are waged against people every day, and he cannot convict a person of making hollow threats in a fit of anger.

“If we were to convict (Lewis) of this, it would open up a can of worms. We wouldn’t be able to hold enough court cases,” Vess said. “People make threats all the time, but was the threat viable? Was it credible?

“There’s no other conclusion I could come to but not guilty. It may not be the most popular stance in the aspect of the community, but that’s the way the law reads, and that’s what I felt.”