Judge will rule later on bond revocation, tells Byrd to stay away from witnesses

mbbaker@sunherald.comSeptember 20, 2013 

PASCAGOULA -- Special Judge William Coleman ended a bond-revocation hearing Friday without ruling on revoking Sheriff Mike Byrd's bond for contacting witnesses in his case.

He said he'd make that ruling at a later date, and District Attorney Tony Lawrence said he plans to amend his motion to revoke Byrd's bond to include the testimony of other grand jury witnesses Byrd allegedly contacted after his arrest in August. Coleman wants to review Lawrence's amended motion before deciding to make all of the documentation public.

Byrd's trial is scheduled for March 10 on the 31-count indictment.

Coleman reiterated to the defense that Byrd is to have no contact with grand jury witnesses.

"I'm going to give you some advice," he told Byrd. "You need to be very careful with what you do."

Byrd's attorney, Joe Sam Owen, said he will advise Byrd not to talk with any more witnesses unless it's for official law enforcement business.

"… My advice to him is the safer course is to let my office do it (contact witnesses) and if we need anything from him (Byrd), he and I can have dialogue," Owen said. "That is the safer course and I think that is something the district attorney wouldn't have any problem with."

Three deputies who said Byrd contacted them regarding their grand jury testimony testified at Friday's hearing.

Sgt. Brad Lewis reiterated earlier statements that both Byrd and Deputy Chief Ken Broadus called him to ask if he remembered the surveillance of employees at an Ocean Springs Mexican restaurant was ordered because of complaints about illegals working there.

Lewis said he did remember the sheriff saying that but didn't want to elaborate on what else Byrd said because he felt Broadus had him on speakerphone.

Lewis said Byrd called him the same day to ask him if then-deputy Jackie Trussell had been present when the restaurant workers were arrested. Lewis said Trussell was present.

"The sheriff had asked me to go to the Mexican restaurant … and conduct surveillance on them because they did not take his check the night prior," Lewis testified Friday. "He wanted me to go down there and show them who the Jackson County sheriff was."

Byrd is accused of targeting employees of the restaurant because they refused to accept a check from him at a campaign dinner.

Lt. Curtis Spiers also testified Friday, saying Byrd has called him twice since his arrest to inquire about the surveillance of the restaurant employees.

Spiers said he was told by the sheriff that Lewis committed fraud the night of the surveillance because he was supposed to be working a DUI detail, but Spiers said he already knew Byrd had ordered Lewis to do the surveillance.

Lawrence filed a motion to revoke Byrd's bond and hold him in contempt of court for contacting the deputies who testified against Byrd. Lawrence said in his motion Byrd contacted and intimidated witnesses who testified in his criminal case.

Owen said in a motion filed Thursday the state "chose to present its case to the court and invariably to the world through the public filing of the subject motion, which included the narratives of Spiers, Lewis and McClenic."

Byrd was indicted on 31 criminal charges, which includes 10 counts each of fraud and embezzlement, two counts each of second-degree hindering prosecution, witness tampering, attempted subornation of perjury, intimidating an officer in the discharge of his duties, extortion and one count of perjury.

He has waived his arraignment and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

One of the charges may come into question after testimony Thursday from McClenic. McClenic backed off testimony given to the grand jury in July that Byrd had pressured him to make an arrest in a murder case.

When McClenic testified before the grand jury, he said he felt the sheriff pressured him to arrest a man in a 2007 murder because Byrd wanted to be able to say during his re-election campaign he had no unsolved murders.

McClenic testified Thursday he has since "refreshed" his memory and believes he arrested the man on the murder charge because the man had confessed and provided details about the crime that no one else knew.

On Friday, McClenic said he didn't recall a lot of the information he was asked about.

He said he was familiar with a man he did surveillance on, who was objecting to a hotel being built in downtown Ocean Springs, but said he couldn't remember if Byrd or sheriff's Capt. Mick Sears had told him to investigate the man for "running drugs or prostitutes." The surveillance, he said, did not result in an arrest.

Numerous defense attorneys and others, including sheriff's employees and FBI agents, attended Friday's hearing.

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