GULFPORT -- A federal judge has decided he will not throw out an indictment in a prescription drug case, denying a defense attorney's claim that a prosecutor's statements and a Sun Herald news report have prejudiced his client's case.
The indictment against Sherrie Box Bennett, 56, of Vancleave, will not be quashed, U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden said in an order signed Wednesday.
The 11-count indictment alleges Bennett, who is a nurse, and her husband, 58-year-old Jerry Dean Bennett, dispensed and distributed prescription drugs outside the scope of professional practice in Harrison County and elsewhere from sometime in 2010 through May 2013.
Sherrie Bennett also is accused of writing illegal prescriptions for herself, her husband and numerous other relatives.
The drugs in question are the painkillers oxycodone, oxymorphone and hydrocodone, and an anti-anxiety medication, alprazolam.
The couple had hired the same attorney to represent them, but Assistant U.S. Attorney John Meynardie filed a motion asking that their attorney be disqualified, citing the possibility of a serious conflict of interest.
Plea negotiations had been in progress, and the wife "is considerably more culpable" than her husband because of her job, Meynardie wrote.
After a Feb. 4 hearing, Ozerden ordered the couple's attorney disqualified to avoid conflicts of interest.
Sherrie Bennett hired attorney Michael Crosby, who filed the motion asking Ozerden to quash the indictment.
Crosby claimed Meynardie had made statements regarding "unfairly prejudicial matters" and said Meynardie's motion should have been filed under seal. Crosby also said the Sun Herald news story, which he submitted as an exhibit, has prejudiced the jury pool and "clearly casts" Sherrie Bennett "in a terrible light."
The Sun Herald story was written from court filings.
Meynardie disagreed with all of Crosby's claims in a subsequent motion. Meynardie argued if Crosby felt prejudicial statements had been made, he should have asked for a closed-court hearing and sought a change of venue.
Ozerden found Meynardie did not violate professional ethics or give prejudicial statements.
Ozerden also referred to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a criminal case involving a former Enron executive. That ruling, in short, said publicity on a criminal case does not necessarily "warrant an automatic presumption of prejudice" or require a change of venue, Ozerden wrote.
Ozerden also found no wrongdoing on the Sun Herald's part.
The news story, he wrote, "was not so pervasive or prejudicial as to significantly influence jury selection."
The Bennetts are set for trial in July. They are free on bond pending trial.