Judge Balances the Scales After Prosecution Bungle at John Wiley Price Trial
Illustration by 355A
Tuesday afternoon, several hours after U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn sent jurors home for the day, the attorneys prosecuting and defending Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and his executive assistant Dapheny Fain were still in Lynn's courtroom.
The teams were at odds over the prosecutors' failure to turn over evidence related to two key federal witnesses. The U.S. attorneys trying the case, led by Walt Junker, want to simply recall the two witnesses FBI agent Don Sherman and FBI accountant David Garcia and have them testify again, this time with the defense having had full access to evidence.
That evidence is not expected to reveal any blockbuster information. Instead, it details the role the witnesses played in the investigation. It's a procedural necessity to hand this material over to the defense, something that the prosecutors did not do.
Fain's defense attorneys called for a mistrial, highlighting that Tuesday wasn't the first time prosecutors hadn't turned over evidence, as Lynn discovered earlier in the legal procedures.
Lynn was clearly agitated with Junker's prosecution team. "This happened on the government's watch," Lynn said. "The record will reflect that the judge is showing signs of angst."
In the end Lynn issued a split-decision. There won't be a mistrial, which would've wasted the six weeks attorneys and jurors have already spent on the corruption case. Instead, Lynn will require Sherman and Garcia to return to the courtroom to answer questions from defense attorneys.
Per Lynn's orders, prosecutors will not be allowed to talk to Sherman and Garcia before their testimony, nor will government attorneys be allowed to ask the witnesses questions after Price and Fain's defense team's are done.
Tuesday's events were, to put it mildly, an unforced error for prosecutors. They've had years to build their case against Price, as their last scheduled witness, FBI agent Allen Wilson, told jurors Tuesday morning, according to reporters in the courtroom. Wilson, the FBI's lead investigator into Price, detailed the FBI's surveillance of the commissioner.
The bureau, Wilson said, hung cameras on utility polls near Price's Oak Cliff home. It determined that the Chevy Avalanche Price was driving was registered to Price's political consultant, Kathy Nealy, when it ran the car's license plate. Nealy, who will go on trial later this year, is accused of providing cars and cash to Price in exchange for influence and inside information from her client.
Wilson was expected to be the last witness put in front of jurors by prosecutors, but now the two recalled witnesses, dragged back into court due to prosecutorial incompetence, will finish the government's case. Late Wednesday afternoon or early Thursday morning, the defense will begin chipping away at the mountain of evidence the feds have put on over the last month. The trial is expected to last at least two more weeks, but it will finish far earlier than the end of June, Lynn's deadline for wrapping up the trial.
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