Judge orders DA to turn over evidence about credibility of Jackson County investigators

mbbaker@sunherald.comJuly 16, 2013 

Byrd

PASCAGOULA -- A judge has ruled that evidence from a district attorney's investigation into former Ocean Springs Alderman James Hagan's arrests must be turned over to defense attorneys in dozens of other criminal cases.

Circuit Judge Robert Krebs said the evidence the DA gathered raises questions about the credibility of two Jackson County sheriff's investigators. Krebs has not ruled on whether the evidence would be admissible at trial, only that lawyers are entitled to review the information.

A decision must still be made on whether defense attorneys can use the evidence to attack the truthfulness of deputies Linda Jones and Hope Thornton if either of them is called to testify in the cases.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd responded Tuesday to the judge's order. "We are ready to defend any type of credibility issues," Byrd said. "When we go to court you can question these investigators all you want. We've always acted in good faith and arrested on probable cause when victims come to us and file complaints and charges."

The credibility of the two detectives came into question as a result of the fallout from the Hagan investigation.

"Based upon information provided by the district attorney's office, evidence exists, not connected to this particular case, that may have an impact on the credibility of Jones as a witness," Krebs said in ruling in the case against Lee Vernon Agee.

Agee was indicted on a charge of sexual battery in an April 2010 incident.

Krebs made the ruling as a result of the District Attorney's Office, filing motions in other criminal cases, noting it had conducted its own investigation of "wrongdoing" on the part of Jones and Thornton, who handled the Hagan probe. One or both investigated the other cases.

The Sheriff's Office had arrested Hagan in 2011 on charges of embezzlement, touching of a child for lustful purposes and possession of child pornography.

A grand jury found insufficient evidence to indict Hagan on the embezzlement and sex-crime charges but did indict him on the child-porn charge, though it was later dismissed for lack of evidence.

Hagan filed a federal lawsuit in June seeking $30 million in damages against Byrd, several employees including Jones and Thornton, the county and its insurance carrier.

The suit alleges the sheriff and his department participated in improper search and seizure, witness tampering, perjury, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, defamation, gross negligence and providing false information in sworn arrest affidavits and search warrants, among other things.

Other defense attorneys, learning of the allegations in Hagan's case, started asking the DA's Office for information pertaining to the conduct of Thornton and Jones.

"Besides the information relevant to Jones, the court was also provided with information relating to Detective Hope Thornton," Krebs' order said. "None of this evidence provided is exculpatory for this defendant (Agee); however, there is evidence that could impact the credibility of certain witnesses in the trials of cases where these detectives were involved in the investigation."

The state asked the judge to say what information from its investigation must be turned over to defense attorneys in the following cases, though the ruling will apply to all cases Thornton and Jones investigated:

n Wayne Arlene Goff, indicted on a charge of child exploitation

n Eric Montaz Franklin, indicted on a charge of child exploitation

n Lee Vernon Agee, indicted on a charge of sexual battery

n Scott Andrew Johnson, indicted on a charge of sexual battery

n Richard Dean Thompson, indicted on a six charges of child exploitation

Krebs ordered that the information turned over to the men's defense attorneys be kept confidential.

Attorney Arthur Carlisle is representing Thompson.

"I look forward to reviewing the document that I will be provided and see how it may impact my client's case," Carlisle said Tuesday. "Hopefully, it will aid in resolving my client's case. I'm glad the truth is coming to light."

District Attorney Tony Lawrence said: "Pursuant to the law, mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state brought this to the court's attention for a determination as to what, if anything, had to be produced to defense attorneys in other cases. The court ruled the information relating to the Hagan investigation by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and the District Attorney's Office investigation into James Hagan's arrests should be produced. The state will provide that information to defense attorneys in a large number of cases involving these detectives."

When asked how many cases investigated by Jones and Thornton could be affected, Lawrence said a "large" number without specifying a figure.

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