Judge: Sheriff Byrd will remain free

calee@sunherald.comOctober 14, 2013 

PASCAGOULA -- Circuit Court Judge William Coleman found Monday that Sheriff Mike Byrd has not violated his bond on criminal charges, meaning the sheriff will remain free and in office while he awaits trial.

Coleman's ruling came after witnesses testified at a hearing where District Attorney Tony Lawrence requested the sheriff's bond be revoked on 31 criminal charges a grand jury filed against him Aug. 29.

Byrd has not denied contacting the witnesses or people related to them. His attorney, Joe Sam Owen, says the sheriff was simply trying to assist with his defense.

Lawrence called three deputies, all of whom Byrd has contacted since their grand jury appearances, to testify at the initial bond-revocation Sept. 20. An additional five witnesses testified Monday.

Coleman said the district attorney failed to prove Byrd was trying to influence any witness to change his or her grand jury testimony. Byrd's bond prohibits witness contact for the purpose of influencing testimony.

However, Coleman noted, Byrd must be in contact with some witnesses because he has chosen to remain in office while fighting the charges and they are his employees.

The charges against Byrd portray him as a sheriff who allegedly used his office to retaliate against perceived enemies, order deputies to raise money for private causes, conceal an accidental shooting in the county narcotics task force office, pressure witnesses to testify falsely in grand jury cases, demand free lawn mower repair and punish a female deputy who rebuffed his sexual advances.

The formal charges, as listed: 10 counts each of fraud and embezzlement, one perjury charge, and two charges each of second-degree hindering prosecution, witness tampering, extortion, attempting to persuade another to commit perjury and intimidating a law enforcement officer on duty.

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