Mayor says she was told to buy votes

bestep@herald-leader.comFebruary 27, 2010 

FRANKFORT — Manchester Mayor Carmen Webb Lewis testified Friday that two election officials tried to get her to provide $1,000 to buy votes when she ran for Manchester council.

Charles Wayne Jones, the Democratic election commissioner in Clay County, and William Stivers, an election officer, said she couldn't win without putting up money, she testified in a vote-buying trial in U.S. District Court.

They didn't specify that the money was to buy votes, but she understood that's what they were talking about, said Lewis, who was making her first bid for office.

Lewis testified that she was told: "You have to pay to win. That's how this works. Everyone does it."

Lewis, director of the local senior citizens center, said she refused, even after the two reached out to her twice more.

Though she finished down the list of vote-getters, she won one of the eight council seats.

Two years later, in November 2006, Lewis ran for mayor and defeated seven-term incumbent Daugh White, who had faced some controversies and was under investigation by the FBI.

Lewis testified in the trial of eight Clay County residents charged with taking part in a scheme to buy or steal votes between 2002 and 2007.

Those charged are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle and former county school Superintendent Douglas Adams, who left their jobs after they were charged; county Clerk Freddy Thompson; Jones and Stivers; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; and William "Bart" Morris and his wife, Debra.

The eight have strongly denied the charges. Their attorneys have suggested in questioning witnesses against the eight that the people have lied.

With the exception of Lewis, most witnesses so far have been felons hoping for shorter sentences, though they have said their deals with prosecutors require truthful testimony.

Witnesses have said that vote-buying was commonplace in Clay County for many years as factions vied to gain or hold power.

When she refused to put up cash in 2004, Stivers seemed to take it personally, Lewis said.

"He got a little huffy, kind of like he was mad," she said.

Another witness, convicted drug dealer Denver Sizemore, said that the night before the May 2002 primary, he went to several places in the county with then-Sheriff Edd Jordan and Jennings White, the incumbent county clerk who was in a bitterly fought race with Thompson, to deliver white envelopes.

Sizemore said Jordan and White didn't tell him what was in the envelopes, but the implication was that they were delivering cash to bribe voters. Jordan has filed to run for sheriff this year.

On Election Day in May 2002, Sizemore said, he rode around with Jennings White to check what was going on at various precincts. He had a pistol and White had two guns, Sizemore said.

At a voting place at Horse Creek Elementary, he saw Jones, Stivers' brother Charles and a man named Jeff Farmer buying votes for Thompson, while White's brother, Bill, was buying votes for White, Sizemore said.

White wanted Sizemore to shoot Charles Stivers, but he didn't, Sizemore said.

That same day, he and Jennings White checked on the Burning Springs polling place. There, he saw Adams, who was then school superintendent, paying several people who were standing in line to vote, Sizemore said.

"He was taking money and putting it in certain people's pockets," Sizemore told jurors.

Adams stopped when someone from the state Attorney General's office showed up, Sizemore said.

On cross-examination by Adams' attorney, R. Kent Westberry, Sizemore said that even though he lived in that area at the time, he could not name or describe any of the people Adams allegedly paid.

Jennings White lost to Thompson in that 2002 race.

A few months later, White offered him $25,000 to kill a man named Bill Roland Phillips who had dug up information on an old sexual-assault charge against White before the race, Sizemore said.

He took half the money but didn't kill Phillips, Sizemore said.

The trial will continue next week.

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