A federal judge on Thursday agreed to postpone a retrial in Alabama's gambling corruption case for three months to give attorneys on both sides more time to prepare, even though the new date could cause a conflict with their favorite college football teams.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson had originally set the retrial to begin Oct. 3, but both defense and prosecuting attorneys complained that didn't give them enough time to get ready and handle other cases they have.
During a hearing Thursday, Thompson set a tentative date of Jan. 9
Bill Baxley, defense attorney for VictoryLand casino lobbyist Tom Coker and a University of Alabama graduate, pointed out that date coincides with the national football championship game in New Orleans, and some of the people in the trial and some of the potential jurors might want to attend the game if Alabama or Auburn is competing in it.
Baxley's request for a different date got shot down by the judge. "You have a judge who went to neither Alabama nor Auburn," said Thompson, who got his undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University.
Thompson said he will rule later on federal prosecutors' request to split up the seven remaining defendants for three separate retrials rather than trying them all at once.
Thompson said the federal government chose to indict the defendants together and try them together initially, and he's reluctant to split them up for retrials. "You indicted them together. You deal with the consequences," he told federal prosecutor Edward Kang.
Originally, nine defendants were tried together for nine weeks and then jury deliberations took an additional week. On Aug. 11, the jury acquitted two defendants, Sen. Quinton Ross of Montgomery and VictoryLand lobbyist Bob Geddie. The jury found the others not guilty on some charges and couldn't reach a verdict on others. No one was convicted.
Kang said the trial took much longer than anticipated because the defense spent many days questioning witnesses presented by the prosecution.
The judge bristled at that comment and said the trial went unusually fast for one involving well-known defendants facing multiple charges.
"I challenge you to find another case that tried nine defendants in nine weeks," Thompson told Kang.
Kang said the prosecution wants to split the defendants into three groups for separate retrials because that would make the trials shorter and less complex. He proposed trying VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor and former legislative bill writer Ray Crosby first. Sen. Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb would be second. The remaining four defendants - former Sens. Larry Means of Attalla and Jim Preuitt of Talladega, casino spokesman Jay Walker and Coker - would be last.
All of the defendants except Coker oppose that.
One of McGregor's attorneys, Ben Espy, said prosecutors were trying to change the rules in the middle of the game because they were unhappy with the outcome. "They are concerned about getting an advantage," he said.
He said selecting three juries and holding three trials would take far longer than a single combined trial because much of the testimony would be repeated in each trial.
If the judge splits up the defendants for retrial, the first case would begin Jan. 9.
In addition to ruling on one retrial or three, the judge also must rule on the prosecutors' request to talk to jurors from the first trial to see why they couldn't reach a verdict on some charges. Thompson said federal judges in Montgomery usually don't allow jurors to be questioned after a trial.