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Catch-22 and the missing witnesses

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
June 25, 2002
Something about Richard Mackey's aborted appeal hearing last week before the Meridian Civil Service Commission has been nagging at me. I finally figured out why it's because the issue in question may be farther from resolution than seems at first apparent.
The hearing was scheduled for Thursday at Mackey's request. He is a former captain with the Meridian Fire Department, fired by Chief Bunky Partridge after an August 2001 arrest for aggravated assault. The disagreement that led to the alleged attack reportedly began in a bar and continued at a nearby trailer park.
Mackey appealed his termination to the CSC shortly after his arrest. His attorneys, Dan Self and Robbie Jones, asked the commission to delay further action in his appeal until the criminal charges against him were resolved one way or the other. The request was granted.
Muddy waters
The next sequence of events complicated the situation then, and will continue to complicate it:
1) Before the next Lauderdale County grand jury met in November 2001, the alleged victim in the assault told District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell that he wanted to drop the charges against Mackey. The district attorney apparently felt there was something at work besides a simple change of heart, and he presented the case to a grand jury anyway.
2) Mackey was indicted in November 2001 for aggravated assault and shooting into an occupied dwelling. A trial date was set.
3) Law enforcement officers attempting to serve subpoenas on two key witnesses, the alleged victim and a woman who saw what happened, reported they could find neither. Neighbors said one or both had moved away, possibly to Texas.
4) Because the witnesses could not be located, the indictment against Mackey was dismissed "without prejudice" in February 2002, which means he can he re-indicted if the witnesses are located at some point in the future.
5) With the criminal charges against him dismissed, at least for the moment, Mackey asked the Civil Service Commission to schedule his appeal hearing. It was set for June 20.
6) In the two days before the hearing, city attorney Lee Thaggard issued subpoenas for the same two witnesses and had the same problem finding them that the district attorney did earlier in the year. On Thursday, he asked for a delay in the hearing to give him a chance to find the missing witnesses. The CSC granted the request, and the hearing has been set rescheduled for July 30.
Here's where it gets strange.
Thaggard's case against Mackey will be seriously damaged if he can't find his witnesses. Not surprisingly, Robbie Jones and Dan Self very much wanted the hearing to proceed on Thursday without the missing witnesses and complained bitterly that Thaggard shouldn't have waited so long to begin looking for them.
If Thaggard finds his witnesses before July 30, all bets are off again. If they can be located, then Bilbo Mitchell's reason for dismissing the indictment against Mackey is gone. Presumably, Mitchell would take steps to re-indict.
If he does, it means the Civil Service Commission's hearing is on hold again pending grand jury action, just as it was in September 2001.
Catch-22. And another set of delays.
Unsure resolution
On July 30, it's too late to re-indict Mackey with dispatch. A Lauderdale County grand jury will have met earlier in that month and issued its indictments. The next grand jury will not meet until November and the district attorney will be under political pressure to push for a new indictment.
The paperwork will begin to fly in Lauderdale County Circuit Court as another trial date is set. The timing of the trial depends on how fast the lawyers can prepare their cases and how many delays they request.
In the final analysis, if Thaggard can find the witnesses, nothing is likely to be resolved until early 2003.
If he can't find them, Thaggard will be forced to proceed with his case before the Civil Service Commission on July 30, and Mackey stands a fair chance of being reinstated and resuming his "normal" life but on borrowed time. The whole process could be re-initiated at any point if the witnesses turn up and the criminal charges are resurrected.
The final resolution in this case, if there is one, may turn on whether or not the witnesses want to be found. So far, it must be said, they haven't.