Former Sheriff Mike Byrd and his attorney, Joe Sam Owen.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence
PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) -
A somber Mike Byrd stood before a judge Thursday, and did something that no one thought would ever happen. He admitted he broke the law, by intimidating a witness in a criminal investigation. With that plea, 30 other charges against him were dropped. Byrd also resigned immediately from office.
Why accept the plea deal? His attorney, Joe Sam Owen, explained. "There's been a lot of comments from the public, there's been a lot of acrimony in the county. That's a factor. The issue of being involved in multiple venues having to deal with that is an issue, and then there's the emotional strain. All of those go into it," Owen said.
Prosecutors are asking that Byrd be sentenced to a year and a half under house arrest. The first six months of house arrest would run concurrently with the recommended six month federal sentence. It's also recommended that Byrd pay $5,000 for investigative costs and a $2,000 fine.
Sentencing for both the state and federal charges will take place on March 11, 2014.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence defended the agreement.
"I know there are some out there that feel that Sheriff Byrd should be in jail, that he should be punished more than what I agree to do," Lawrence said. "First off, I would say that this was my decision, I made that decision. I made it, I thought, in the best interests of the county. The county is ready to move forward, the county needs to move forward."
He said the plea also sends a message. "Those who carry a badge should not violate the law, we should be above reproach. And by George, this county stands for something and that's the justice system and that's the constitution."
There was also remorse from the DA about a career that ended in shame. "It is sad that people are going to remember this as his legacy. I would hope that when people begin to ridicule Mike Byrd over this, the end part of his career, that they remember some of the good that he did during his career," Lawrence said.
The former sheriff has not spoken since the indictment. Will that change? Owen offered his thoughts.
"Not now. I think when the sentencing has concluded, both the federal and state venue, I will encourage him to do that."
As for Byrd's state of mind. "I think he's relieved," Owen said. "I think that would be a fair characterization."
Now, the entire county can breathe a sigh of relief as well.
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