Former Clay official jailed for dining with witness

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 17, 2010 

FRANKFORT — Former Clay County school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams will spend the next several days in jail for having dinner at a Frankfort restaurant with a witness in the federal vote-fraud case against Adams and others.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves on Tuesday ruled that Adams had had improper contact with a witness. Reeves ordered Adams jailed pending the outcome of the trial, which probably will continue into next week.

Adams had been free under certain conditions since the day after he was arrested nearly a year ago. Those charged were under court order not to have contact with witnesses or potential witnesses.

Monday night, however, Adams went to dinner with Ronnie Owens, a carpenter from Manchester who had been recognized in court as a witness that day, according to testimony.

Two investigators and two prosecutors on the case went to the LongHorn Steakhouse in Frankfort and saw Adams there with Owens and a woman identified as Owens' fiancée, said Edsel "Buddy" Blair, one of the investigators. Blair said Adams and the two people at his table left separately, as if to avoid detection, though someone in Blair's group photographed them.

Prosecutors told Reeves about the incident Tuesday. At a hearing, Owens testified that he and Adams — who paid for Owens' dinner — did not discuss the trial, but rather talked about education and other matters. Owens said Adams called him later to make sure he had found a place to stay that night.

Adams' attorney, R. Kent Westberry, said putting Adams in jail would make it harder for them to confer on trial issues.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman said it was clear that Adams had violated the rule on not having contact with witnesses. What Owens and Adams discussed at dinner was "certainly suspicious at best," Parman said in urging Reeves to jail Adams.

Reeves did so, citing the incident as the latest improper contact with witnesses by some of the defendants.

Not long after charges were filed in the case, there was an allegation that one defendant, Charles Wayne Jones, a former county Democratic election commissioner, identified witnesses to another man who then sent them a threatening message.

And after witnesses said defendant William Stivers, another former election officer, tried to intimidate them last year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier ordered him jailed in December pending the outcome of the trial.

At the end of the day Tuesday, a federal marshal took Adams and Stivers to jail.

Owens was to have been a witness for Jones, but Jones' attorney ended up not calling him to testify.

Adams, who was superintendent from 1999 to 2009 during a time of improvement in the county school system, is charged along with former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle with heading a scheme to buy or steal votes from 2002 to 2007. The goal was to get and hold power so they could enrich themselves and others, the indictment charged.

The others charged are county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; and William "Bart" Morris and his wife, Debra, who allegedly paid voters.

All those indicted have denied the charges.

Their attorneys have questioned the credibility of witnesses against them, suggesting several were willing to lie to get lenient treatment in their own legal troubles, although those people said their agreements with prosecutors required truthful testimony.

One witness Tuesday was Clay County Attorney Clay Massey Bishop Jr., who testified he had been active in local politics and knew of nothing improper Adams had done.

Bishop also said he was never at a meeting where candidates discussed pooling money to buy votes, as earlier testimony had suggested.

Asked whether he understood that there has been a problem with vote-buying in the county, Bishop said, "I've heard that."

Attorneys for Maricle, Adams, Jones and Stivers have finished calling witnesses in an attempt to pick holes in the testimony against them.

On Tuesday, for instance, the manager of a Manchester apartment complex testified that vote-buyer Bobby "Red" Sams had not rented a unit there since at least 2000.

Sams had testified he let voter-buyers use his apartment.

The apartment manager acknowledged, however, that she did not know whether Sams had lived with someone else in the complex.

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