Sheriff's attorney: Pre-trial publicity has 'saturated' Jackson County

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Sheriff Mike Byrd's attorney made it clear in a court filing Friday that his client wants his case to be heard by jurors in Jackson County, but pre-trial publicly is making that a difficult proposition.

Joe Sam Owen filed a response Friday to this week's motion to revoke Byrd's bond. Wednesday's motion, filed by District Attorney Tony Lawrence, accused Byrd of intimidating witnesses, specifically three Jackson County Sheriff's deputies who testified before the grand jury that indicted Byrd on August 30. The charges in the 31 count criminal indictment include fraud, extortion, embezzlement and perjury.

In Friday's court papers, Owen said the district attorney's decision to release the details of that motion was "reckless" and "serve no purpose other than to trample upon Mike Byrd's right to a fair and impartial trial under the Sixth Amendment."

Owen said the district attorney should have filed the motion under seal, or allowed for a review to determine if it should be filed publicly. He specifically objected to the way the motion with the attached narratives of deputies made its way into the public domain.

"The publication was not limited to coverage on the front page of the Sun Herald or the top story in the WLOX broadcast, but the motion and the narratives were posted verbatim online, and in full context for the entire world to read."

He suggested that only gives one side, and that anyone reading the motion would likely "rush to judgment."

Owen said the sheriff admits to talking with the deputies, but not to ask about their Grand Jury testimony, or to intimidate or harass.

"Mike Byrd was only assisting his counsel in attempting to assimilate accurate facts as to several counts in the indictment."

The filing goes on to list specific allegations in the motion as untrue, but that "the immeasurable damage that flows from such a pretrial stunt cannot be undone."

Finally, Owen made it clear that the sheriff wants his case to be heard by jurors in the county he has served for all these years.

"Mike Byrd does not seek to change venue and the state should not force him to seek a change of venue. The publicity in this case has saturated Jackson County and has been negative at best. Juxtapose the indictment coverage with the intimidation motion coverage and the playing field begins to tilt in favor of the State. Is this really the manner our framers of the constitution envisioned application of the Sixth Amendment?"

A special judge appointed to this case will decide if Byrd violated the terms of his bond. The earliest that decision could come is at a hearing set for September 20th.

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