Judge: Defense attorneys can see two Jackson County deputies' testimony

They work under Byrd on internet crimes task force

mbbaker@sunherald.comOctober 3, 2013 



JACKSON COUNTY -- A judge has ordered the July grand jury testimony of two Jackson County deputies to be turned over to defense attorneys in every case one or both investigated.

Circuit Judge Robert Krebs issued the order Wednesday, granting the state a waiver to allow it to turn over the testimony of deputies Linda Jones and Hope Thornton. Grand jury testimony is secret for six months, but the judge's order waives that rule, allowing District Attorney Tony Lawrence to hand over the July 26 and July 27 testimony.

In July, Krebs ruled evidence from a district attorney's investigation into former Ocean Springs Alderman James Hagan's arrest be turned over to defense attorneys because the evidence the DA gathered questions the credibility of Jones and Thornton. Krebs has not ruled on whether the evidence would be admissible at trial, only that lawyers are entitled to review it.

A decision will still have to made on whether defense attorneys can use the evidence to attack the truthfulness of Jones or Thornton if either is called to testify in a case.

Krebs had ordered information pertaining to Thornton and Jones to be kept confidential after it is turned over to defense attorneys.

In August, a grand jury indicted Sheriff Mike Byrd on 31 felony charges, or 10 counts each of fraud and embezzlement and two counts each of witness tampering, second-offense hindering prosecution, intimidating an officer in the discharge of his duties, attempted subornation of perjury, extortion and one count of perjury.

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

The Sheriff's Office arrested Hagan in 2011 on charges of embezzlement, touching of a child for lustful purposes and possession of child pornography, though the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Among the charges pending against Byrd are allegations he told Ocean Springs Police Chief Lionel Cothern and Deputy Chief Mark Dunston to tell City Clerk Shelly Ferguson to lie before a grand jury and say Hagan had no right to possess a city laptop computer.

According to the indictment, Byrd knew Hagan was in lawful possession of a laptop.

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

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