Arguments end in Clay vote-fraud trial

Jury deliberations begin Wednesday

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 24, 2010 

FRANKFORT — The vote-fraud case against eight Clay County residents was built on lies and misunderstandings, and prosecutors did not provide adequate proof to convict the eight, defense attorneys argued Tuesday.

One defense attorney used the term "garbage in, garbage out" to describe some evidence.

The prosecutor, however, said attorneys for the eight were trying to confuse the jury in the face of great evidence.

Attorneys for both sides finished their arguments Tuesday. Jurors will begin deliberating Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves said.

Those on trial are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former school Superintendent Douglas C. Adams; County Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, a former Democratic election commissioner; William Stivers, a former election official; and William Bart Morris and his wife, Debra Morris.

They are accused of using the county board of elections as a vehicle to buy and steal votes from 2002 to 2007 so they could get power, jobs and contracts.

They all denied the charges.

There has been testimony during the seven-week trial about widespread vote-buying in the county, sometimes involving slates of candidates who pooled large sums of money.

On Tuesday, however, defense attorneys said assertions against the eight were flat wrong.

There was a claim that Maricle let someone out of jail to help buy votes in 2006, when in fact it was another judge, said Maricle's attorney, Martin Pinales.

Adams' attorney, R. Kent Westberry, said Adams was accused of meeting before the May 2002 primary with candidates who pooled about $150,000 to buy votes.

That allegedly happened at a garage owned by Paul Bishop. Yet prosecutors did not call Bishop as a witness, Westberry said.

It strongly suggested the government "doesn't have it right," Westberry said.

Tucker Richardson, who with Russ Baldani represented Thompson, said witnesses against Thompson had reason to lie because they wanted lenient treatment.

He said prosecutors are "creating a sinister cloak to throw over Freddy Thompson, and it's not there."

Richardson said people bought votes for Thompson in 2002, but Thompson did not put in money.

Defense attorneys pointed out that those on trial supported different candidates in some elections, belying the charge that they conspired to control politics.

"The government has failed in every way to show that there was a conspiracy ... to control politics in Clay County," said Bowling's attorney, Dan Simons.

In 2002, Bowling was allegedly in a conspiracy with the brother of the man he opposed in a race for magistrate, which makes no sense, Simons said.

Debra Morris' attorney, Elizabeth Hughes, said after investigating drug and corruption cases in Clay County for several years — and sending several public officials to prison — investigators jumped to conclusions in the current case.

That showed up in small details, such as the name of William Bart Morris' garbage-transfer company being slightly wrong on the indictment, Hughes said.

In his final argument, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Smith said defense attorneys were trying something President Harry Truman once said: "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em."

Smith said defense attorneys want jurors to ignore the credible witnesses — not just the felons — who testified about Adams and others in the conspiracy buying votes.

As for the felons who testified, they knew they could be charged if they lied, Smith said.

Smith said under the law, people could be part of the conspiracy without agreeing all the time.

There is ample evidence, supported by the defendants' own words on recordings, that the eight schemed to corrupt elections, Smith said.

He asked jurors to return a verdict of guilty across the board.

"Guilty, ladies and gentlemen, because justice requires it," Smith said.

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