Written by Kyle Whitmire and Madison Underwood.
Former Gov. Bob Riley must testify if called as a witness in the retrial of Milton McGregor and eight other defendants, a federal magistrate judge ruled Monday afternoon.
Last summer McGregor had asked the courts to allow him to subpoena Riley, but attorneys for the state and the former governor successfully prevented the defense from calling Riley as a witness. Defense lawyers want to ask Riley about conversations he had with one member of the alleged bingo corruption conspiracy. Outside of court, defendants have speculated on the Republican Party’s relationship with out-of-state gambling interests, including Mississippi Indian casinos.
During the corruption trial last summer, Riley suffered a motorcycle wreck in Alaska, which left him hospitalized and unable to testify.
Col. Chris Murphy, who served as director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety under Riley, also fought his subpoena. Because Murphy’s attempts to quash his subpoena were similar to Riley’s, U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel addressed their motions together.
Attorneys for Riley and Murphy argued that, as “high officials,” the two “should not be called to testify absent extraordinary circumstances,” Capel wrote. Such “high official” arguments make the case that agency heads and others have little personal knowledge of department actions, and that they are busy and have other priorities. But Capel did not bite on that argument.
“In the present case, Defendant is attempting to subpoena former officials, officials who were in office at the time the investigation of this case took place,” Capel wrote. “The time constraints and greater duties rationale does not apply in this case.”
Defendants have argued that they should be able to call Riley due to conversations one of the defendants — Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb) — had with Riley regarding her support of electronic bingo. But, because codefendants can’t be compelled to testify, perhaps Riley is the only witness who can shed light on those conversations in court, Capel wrote.
Recently, disgraced superlobbyist and convicted criminal Jack Abramoff said in his tell-all book, Capital Punishment, that his firm funneled $20 million of Mississippi gambling money into Alabama campaigns. Out-of-state gambling interests sought to squash competition from upstart in-state casinos and video poker operators.
Though they must now be available and prepared to testify at the trial, Riley and Murphy may not, after all, actually be called to testify. In the first bingo corruption trial, defendants listed several hundred witnesses on their witness lists but only called one witness before resting. That trial ended in August with no convictions, acquittals on many charges, and a hung jury on other counts. Two of the eleven defendants were totally acquitted of all charges in that trial.
McGregor, Smith and their seven codefendants are scheduled to be retried on the hung counts on January 30.