615 F.2d 329 (5th Cir. 1980), 79-5590, United States v. Thompson

Docket Nº:79-5590.
Citation:615 F.2d 329
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Charlie Will THOMPSON, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:April 10, 1980
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 329

615 F.2d 329 (5th Cir. 1980)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Charlie Will THOMPSON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 79-5590.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 10, 1980

Page 330

Tom Radney, Alexander City, Ala., for defendant-appellant.

Barry E. Teague, U.S. Atty., Kent B. Brunson, Asst. U.S. Atty., Montgomery, Ala., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Before GEE, FAY and VANCE, Circuit Judges.

FAY, Circuit Judge:

A federal jury in the Middle District of Alabama convicted Charlie Will Thompson of conspiring to violate and violating election laws in a federal election, by acts made unlawful under 18 U.S.C. § 371 (1976) and 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(c) (1976). On appeal Thompson contends that the trial court, by dismissing a government witness and instructing the jury to disregard her surprise adverse testimony, usurped the jury's function and deprived him of his constitutional right to cross-examine the witness. Thompson further asserts that unfair prejudice sprang from pervasive pretrial publicity and from admission of evidence suggesting appellant's transgression of his county's liquor laws. Finding that the trial court erred in dismissing the government's witness and excluding her testimony, we reverse appellant's conviction on the count to which the witness's testimony appertained. As to the remaining counts, we affirm.

Appellant Thompson, incumbent sheriff of Randolph County, Alabama, faced a close runoff election for office in September, 1978. He won the election but lost the office when the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered evidence leading to his indictment for conspiring to buy and buying votes in a federal 1 election, and for aiding

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and abetting others to do the same for him. Leading to Thompson's arrest and indictment were certain voters' Request for Assistance forms labeled "sold vote." Eventually, many voters admitted that Thompson's campaign workers not only paid cash for votes for Thompson but in several instances even accompanied voters into the booth to insure the voters' compliance, pursuant to false voter assistance request affidavits. Especially damaging to Thompson's case were statements by Robert L. Brown, Jr., one of Thompson's campaign workers charged with election law violations. As part of a negotiated plea agreement, Brown admitted that Thompson gave him both cash and liquor with which to buy votes.

Brown reached the plea agreement with the government about two weeks before trial began. Apparently deeming the agreement a significant step in the case, the United States Attorney called a local television station to release the news of Brown's change in plea. At his request, a reporter came to his office and filmed a brief interview. In the news clip released that night the United States Attorney repeated the substance of Brown's admissions and his implication of Thompson.

When trial began, the United States Attorney called Brown and several other witnesses who had previously told the grand jury that Thompson's campaign workers had tried, with varying measures of success, to buy their votes. To the prosecutor's chagrin, however, one witness deviated from her grand jury testimony, omitting any reference to cash offers for her vote. To refresh her memory, the prosecutor read parts of her recorded prior statements to her, outside the jury's presence. Eventually she acknowledged having admitted to the grand jury that she took $5.00 for her vote. When the jury returned, however, the witness denied ever having taken money for her vote. Confronted with this contradiction, the trial judge interrupted the prosecutor's questioning and initiated the following exchange:

THE COURT: This Court finds this witness unworthy of belief. I direct the jury not to consider anything she has said as having any...

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