Prof: Hood testimony sets stage

Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey said the prosecution’s goal for the first day of what is likely to be a two-week trial was to establish its credibility and begin telling a story. Hood’s testimony did both, he said.

“It’s important to paint a picture about why the jury should view this behavior as worthy of criminal prosecution,” he said. “Juries, like the rest of us, have an inherent desire to hear a story.”

For its part, the defense must build its own reputation with jurors while simultaneously tearing down the credibility of the prosecutors and their witnesses, he said.

“I think it’s important to get some momentum,” he said.

Melton and Recio are charged with federal civil rights violations related to their role in a warrantless raid on a Ridgeway Street duplex in August 2006. If convicted on all charges, they stand to be imprisoned for between five and 25 years.

Defense attorneys John Reeves and Cynthia Stewart did their best to disrupt the prosecution’s momentum with numerous objections to the questions of federal prosecutor Mark Blumberg. Many of the objections resulted in delays and private bench conferences with U.S. District Court Judge Dan Jordan that not only interrupted the flow of testimony but also tested the patience and attentiveness of the jurors, many of whom exchanged exasperated glances at each delay.

“These preliminary moves, like the opening moves in a chess match, set the stage for what is to come,” Steffey said.

Steffey said Reeves may have taken a risk in a tough, combative cross examination with Jennifer Sutton, a cleaning lady, mother of two and owner of the duplex. Reeves hammered on inconsistencies between Sutton’s testimony in Melton’s 2007 state trial and her testimony Monday, especially over whether Melton offered to fix the damage to the house following the raid.

Reeves suggested Sutton changed her testimony to benefit her $250,000 lawsuit, which has been filed in state and federal court. “You filed two lawsuits over the same thing,” he said. “Do you want to collect twice?”

“I worked hard for these properties and what happened was wrong,” Sutton shot back.

Sutton eventually was allowed to leave the courtroom when she complained of chest pains. Steffey said Reeves has to walk a fine line while still being an aggressive advocate for his client.

“If what (the jurors) remember from that is they don’t like John Reeves, then that does far more harm than good,” he said.

Steffey said the defense attorneys need to present as positive an image of themselves to the jury as possible in preparation for the main event of the trial – the testimony of former bodyguard Marcus Wright.

Wright is expected to deliver key, first-hand testimony for the prosecution about the raid.

“If Officer Wright does not become a credible witness, this case becomes much more defensible,” he said. “When push comes to shove and John has to cross examine Marcus, they have to look at those two and say, ‘I believe John Reeves and not Marcus Wright.’ ”

Clarion Ledger
2/10/9