Two of the federal government's key witnesses in the recent gambling corruption trial - Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) and District Judge Ben Lewis of Dothan, a former representative, had "ulterior motives rooted in naked political ambition and pure racial bias," according to an opinion by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. Thompson presided over the original trial.
Judge Thompson's stark critique was part of a written opinion about the admissibility of statements from co-conspirators in the upcoming re-trial.
"Beason's and Lewis's testimony is corroborated by tape recordings and accounts of other witnesses who did not share the same discriminatory motivations," Thompson wrote. "Just as the racist statements of the government's witnesses speak for themselves, much of the evidence against the defendants stands on its own," the judge concluded.
Beason and Lewis wore electronic recording devices to assist in the government's investigation against the defendants. Thompson found the men cooperated with the FBI investigators not to "clean up corruption but to increase Republican turnout by reducing African-American turnout." Thompson cited recorded conversation in which Republicans discussed political strategy. In those conversations, Beason referred to Blacks from Greene County as "Aborigines."
"Beason's and Lewis's statements demonstrated a deep-seated racial animus and a desire to suppress Black votes by manipulating what issues appeared on the 2010 ballot," Thompson wrote. "Lawmakers who harbor such sentiments lack the integrity expected from elected officials. "
Beason, of whom critics demanded a resignation, later apologized for his comments, and said they "were careless and unnecessary." He has not stepped down from his leadership position in the State Senate. Beason told our sister station WBRC that he was reviewing the opinion, and would issue a full statement in the near future.
Despite the judge's thoughts on the credibility of Beason and Lewis, Thompson found that there was evidence to prove the defendants in the case cooperated in a conspiracy.
The first trial ended in the acquittal of two defendants, lobbyist Bob Geddie and State Sen. Quentin Ross (D-Montgomery). Seven remaining defendants, including VictoryLand Casino owner Milton McGregor and State Senator Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb), are included in the re-trial.
The re-trial is scheduled to begin on January 30th.