Attorney Ron Wise told jurors in the Alabama gambling corruption trial Thursday that opening statements are supposed to be like a roadmap of the case for the jury—or at least that’s what he learned in law school. But that’s impossible in this case, he said, because the witnesses change their stories too much.
“But when it gets down to the 11th hour, that story’s changed. And we will prove to you that the story’s changed.” Wise said he’ll prove that “even though we have no burden of proof.”
Wise, who represents former state Sen. Jim Preuitt, was just one of several attorneys who launched preemptive attacks on the credibility of government witnesses. William White, an attorney for Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb), said witnesses who take a plea deal in exchange for their testimony are “motivated witnesses,” and Wise said such witnesses “have incentive to say what the government wants them to say.” But Wise also indicated that he will use testimony from the first bingo corruption trial — which ended in August, after two months of testimony, with no convictions — to undermine witnesses on the stand.
Wise leveled most of his attacks on lobbyist and government witness Jennifer Pouncy, who is the primary witness against Sen. Preuitt.
“You’re going to hear her admit under oath that she can’t remember what she said sometimes 25 minutes ago,” Wise said, referring to an incident in the last trial in which a tearful, flustered Pouncy said, “I don’t remember what I said 25 minutes ago.”
“That’s just Ms. Pouncy,” Wise said.
In the first trial, Pouncy told another lawyer, under oath, that she might describe her boss (and fellow government witness) Jarrod Massey as an “arrogant prick who wanted to control everything,” — Wise mentioned that incident in his opening as well — and that she didn’t think Massey was honest. “I don’t think he was telling me the truth about a lot of things,” she said.
It’s not clear if prosecutors will call Massey to the stand. One defense attorney expects Pouncy to be called.
Bill Clark, an attorney for former Sen. Larry Means (R-Attalla), seemed to believe Pouncy’s credibility would be a weak point for the prosecution as well. Means is accused of accepting a bribe from Pouncy.
“There was no bribe and Larry Means never agreed to accept any bribe,” Clark said to the jury in his opening statement. “And if Jennifer Pouncy assumed that, Larry Means should not be convicted because she assumed that.
“I submit to you Ms. Pouncy says he’s guilty. Larry Means is not guilty,” he said.
Joe Espy, an attorney for gambling developer and Victoryland owner Milton McGregor, attacked the credibility of Massey, Massey and Pouncy’s client Ronnie Gilley (who also pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government) and state Sen. Scott Beason, who testified in the last trial.
“Scott Beason. Scott Beason,” Espy repeated. “Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the evidence will show he will do anything.”
After the last bingo trial ended, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote in an opinion that Beason and another witness, former Rep. Ben Lewis, were not credible due to political motivations and racism.
“As a preliminary matter, the court finds that Beason and Lewis lack the credibility that the government sought to establish,” Thompson wrote. “The evidence introduced at trial contradicts the self-serving portrait of Beason and Lewis as untouchable opponents of corruption. In reality, Beason and Lewis had ulterior motives rooted in naked political ambition and pure racial bias.”
The prosecution will call its first witnesses tomorrow.