Second week of Painter trial starts tense & heated - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Second week of Painter trial starts tense & heated

Posted: Updated: Dec 16, 2013 07:39 PM
Murphy Painter leaving court Murphy Painter leaving court
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Before court began at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Federal Judge James Brady told the prosecution they could not ask any more witnesses any questions about the defendant, Painter, writing down license plate numbers.

Fawer asked Craft if she dressed as Painter to ridicule the defendant, Craft said no.  He asked again that if she wasn't trying to ridicule him, was it meant to be educational?  Craft came back saying it was a stressful situation and she was dealing with it through humor.  "I don't have feelings one way or the other towards your client.  I was terrified of what happened," said Craft.

Fawer concluded his questioning of Craft by saying "Happy Halloween" and returned to his seat.

The prosecution presented three witnesses by lunch time Monday.  The first to take the stand was Louis Thompson.  Thompson currently works for the Department of Public Safety, but from 1997 to 2012, he worked at ATC.  Over the span of 15 years, he wore numerous hats including agent, special agent and director.  As director, he was in charge of the enforcement division and Painter was his boss.  The prosecution opened by asking Thompson if he knew what Voyager was.  He responded with yes. Voyager is a database that provides background checks. 

Through testimony, it was established that the state conducted an audit in 2007 into ATC conducting background checks through Voyager.  The results of that audit, according to Thompson, were that ATC was not to use Voyager for background checks on people applying for permits with ATC. 

Thompson was asked what was Painter's response to the audit.  He said, "[Painter] didn't seem pleased.  He was concerned permits would go out slower if we didn't use it."  When asked if Painter instructed Thompson to stop using Voyager, Thompson said, "I don't think we ever came to a conclusion what we would do."  Thompson added that Painter said, "[The auditors] hadn't been there for eight years to do [an audit] and figured they wouldn't be back for another eight years or longer." 

Defense attorney Mike Fawer cross-examined Thompson by establishing ATC has 35 days to respond to a permit application.  If ATC does not respond within those 35 days, the application is automatically approved, regardless if the applicant is a felon.  He also established through testimony that a few times, felons had been issued applications and ATC agents had to then go back and revoke them.  Fawer asked Thompson if the single best way to run a criminal past is through NCIC?  Thompson replied, "It's the fastest and most efficient way to do it."  But because the audit prevented ATC from using Voyager for background checks, ATC was left solely depending on results from fingerprints, but if the results took longer than 35 days, the applicant was automatically granted the permit.  Fawer established Voyager was a quicker result instead of waiting on fingerprint results. 

The prosecution came back and asked Thompson when a name is typed in Voyager, what happens?  He replied with a list of people with that specific name comes back and you select the person you want.  When asked what happens through fingerprint analysis, Thompson said the results come back specific to that one person. 

The second witness to take the stand was Jill Craft, a Baton Rouge attorney.  Craft said she had worked three licensing cases against ATC.  In one specific case in 2009, Craft said, "[Painter] was pretty hostile to me."  In response, Painter smirked.

The prosecution established Craft was in court with Painter for opposing hearings in March and Sept. 2008.  Then, they showed background checks run through Voyager on March 17, 2008 and Sept. 13, 2008.  They also showed a map and directions to Craft's home and pictures of her house and her neighbor's home.  When asked if Craft knew of any reason why Painter would have a map and directions to her home, Craft replied, "No." 

During a tense and heated at times cross examination, Fawer asked Craft about a Halloween party she hosted where her husband, WAFB Reporter Jim Shannon, and Craft dressed as Murphy Painter.  Shannon wore a name tag reading, "My name is Murphy," while Craft dressed as a painter with a paint brush. 

Fawer asked Craft if she dressed as Painter to ridicule the defendant, Craft said no.  He asked again that if she wasn't trying to ridicule him, was it meant to be educational?  Craft came back saying it was a stressful situation and she was dealing with it through humor.  "I don't have feelings one way or the other towards your client.  I was terrified of what happened," said Craft. 

The prosecution's third witness was Craft's neighbor Joyce McIntire.  The same pictures Craft was shown, were shown to McIntire to confirm her home was included in the pictures as well as her husband's vehicle parked in their driveway. 

In addition, the prosecution showed McIntire a printout of directions to a home that McIntire confirmed was the route to a neighboring house.  On the bottom of that printout was a hand-written license plate number.  Through a Voyager background check printed on Sept. 17, 2008 on McIntire, the prosecution showed the license plate number was the same that was written on the printed out directions.  When asked why would the document with printed directions be in Painter's office, McIntire replied, "I would have no idea."  The defense chose not to cross-examine McIntire.

The state resumed at 1:30 p.m. Monday with their fourth witness being Brant Thompson.  Thompson served as the ATC deputy commissioner for six years working hand-in-hand with Painter.  In 2010, after Painter was fired, Thompson served as interim commissioner for a short while.  Thompson was asked if Painter had access to a Voyager account and separate access to a driver's license database. Thompson responded, "Yes."  He said the reason he knew that was because from time-to-time, he would get called into Painter's office to look at the computer screen with background checks pulled up.  The state asked Thompson if he was led to believed they were criminal investigations, and Thompson said, "No."

The audit, whose findings came out in 2008, was brought up again, and even though the audit advised ATC they needed to stop using Voyager for criminal background checks, Thompson said Painter wasn't interested in discontinuing the use of Voyager because he was worried permits would be granted to people who shouldn't get them.  Thompson said he and Louis Thompson recommended relying on the fingerprint analysis, Thompson said Painter said, "We're not changing a ******* thing.  We haven't seen them (the auditors) in eight years and won't see them for another eight years.  By that time, I'll be gone and you'll be gone." 

Another key question was in Thompson's 6 years at ATC, how many times did he use Voyager for background checks.  Thompson said, "None." 

When Fawer began cross-examination, he established that there was an issue between Painter and the governor's office over issuing an alcohol permit for Champions Square in New Orleans next to the Superdome.  Fawer says shortly after Painter refused to issue the permit, he was fired.  Thompson was named interim commissioner on a Friday, and Fawer said the following Monday, the permit for Champions Square was granted insinuating that the governor's office had a hand in firing Painter.  Thompson said, "I don't recall anything with Champions Square.  I never had any communications with the governor's office over a permit for Champions Square."  Thompson added he didn't know if a permit was ever issued for Champions Square, but because alcohol is served there, obviously a permit was approved.

Trial for the day wrapped up around 3:45 p.m.  The prosecution will resume presenting its witnesses Tuesday at 9 a.m.

HISTORY

Painter, 59, is accused of performing illegal background checks on hundreds of people, mainly women. He is being represented by attorney Michael Fawer, a high-profile lawyer out of New Orleans.

Painter was indicted on computer fraud, making false statements and aggravated identity theft by a grand jury on May 23, 2012. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 13, 2012. A judge released him on his own recognizance, so he is allowed to remain free throughout the trial.

Inspector General Stephen Street said Kelli Suire claimed Painter was stalking her. He said investigators later found Painter used state and Federal Bureau of Investigations databases to get personal information about Suire and her attorney, Jill Craft.

US Attorney Don Cazayoux said if Painter is convicted of the above charges, he could face a maximum of 82 years in prison and fines up to more than $12 million.

The indictment alleges Painter made false statements to FBI agents. He is accused of using law enforcement databases for "non-official criminal justice purposes." The indictment also claims Painter exceeded his authorized access and obtained person identification information on several people throughout the area.

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