Former Clay clerk describes $100,000 worth of vote-buying in 2002 primary

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 4, 2010 

FRANKFORT — The loser in a knock-down race for Clay County clerk in 2002 sat in a courtroom with the winner Wednesday and said both sides bought votes hand over fist.

Former county Clerk Jennings B. White said he and two allies, then-state Rep. Barbara White Colter and Edd Jordan, sheriff at the time, pooled $100,000 to buy votes as a group.

There has been testimony that candidates in the slate opposing White's group pooled $150,000 or more to buy votes.

White lost that 2002 Republican primary to challenger Freddy W. Thompson, who is now charged with being part of a scheme to buy votes in that race.

White testified against Thompson on Wednesday, saying he saw people allied with Thompson buy votes.

One, William Stivers, came with pockets full of money to the office where people cast early absentee votes, but his pockets were empty by the end of the day, White said.

However, White said that in some cases he went into the voting booth with people who'd been paid to vote for Thompson and instead cast their votes for him.

"I stole every vote I could from him," White said.

He testified in the trial of eight Clay County residents charged with conspiring to buy and steal votes from 2002 to 2007 so they could get or keep power.

The eight are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former school superintendent Douglas Adams; Thompson, the current county clerk; Stivers and Charles Wayne Jones, former election officials; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; and William "Bart" Morris and his wife, Debra.

The eight have denied the charges. Their attorneys have portrayed many witnesses against them as convicted felons willing to lie to get shorter sentences.

White, who is in his mid-60s, was convicted in 2005 of getting involved with a major drug dealer while he was in office. He pleaded guilty to drug charges and helping launder money for the drug dealer, Kenneth Day, and is serving a 90-month sentence.

He came to court Wednesday in handcuffs and a drab jail jumpsuit, gray-haired and heavier than when he went to prison.

Like other witnesses, White said vote-buying has long been common in Clay County.

"Very easy to buy 'em," he said.

The 2002 race between White and Thompson was volatile, with shootings and jostling at the absentee-voting machines, allegedly related to the vote-buying efforts.

Jordan, a friend of White, twice shut down the absentee polls. A witness in the current trial said that was an effort to slow down the vote-buying against White.

White testified for the first time Wednesday that he staged a shooting that year.

Shortly before Election Day, White reported that someone ambushed him on an isolated road, riddling his van with more than 30 bullets as he jumped out and rolled down a hillside, barely escaping with his life.

"All I heard was shots. I didn't bother looking to see who was firing," White said at the time.

Jordan, the sheriff, said then that the hit was politically motivated and raised the idea that supporters of Thompson could be involved.

But many people thought White had staged the shooting to gain sympathy or try to make Thompson look bad, or both, and White confirmed that he set up the shooting with Roger "Uncle Bud" Smith, a vote-buyer.

In response to questions from Stivers' attorney, Robert Abell, White contradicted an earlier witness, convicted drug dealer Denver Sizemore.

Sizemore testified that as he rode around with White on Election Day in 2002, both of them armed, White wanted him to shoot Stivers' brother at a precinct where he was buying votes.

Sizemore also said that after the election, White offered him $25,000 to kill a man who had dug up information on an old criminal charge against White.

However, White said Wednesday that he didn't suggest shooting Stivers and did not offer Sizemore money to kill the other man.

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