JONESBORO — Both sides in the case against Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill rested Tuesday afternoon without Hill taking the stand.
Jurors are to return to Superior Court Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Judge Albert Collier said Tuesday he will allow each side 90 minutes to make closing arguments.
Special prosecutor Layla Zon rested the state’s case about 1:45 p.m. after presenting more than a dozen witnesses over four days. Defense attorneys presented two witnesses and rested their case at 4:10 p.m.
Hill told Collier he understood his rights against self-incrimination and wouldn’t testify on his own behalf.
Hill achieved a victory Tuesday when Collier agreed to drop one of 28 felonies against him, meaning a total reduction of 10 charges from the original 37-count indictment. Collier dropped five counts last year and four more just before jury selection started Aug. 5.
Defense attorney Marissa Goldberg argued Tuesday that the state failed to prove Hill influenced witness Naomi Nash by sending an attorney to visit her after she was jailed for contempt for refusing to testify against him before the special purpose grand jury.
Goldberg wanted Collier to issue a directed verdict of acquittal on all the charges but he said the state provided sufficient evidence for the jury to make the decision to convict or acquit.
Collier also ruled against defense attorney Drew Findling’s motion to have the entire indictment dismissed. Collier said the defense knew for months that the deadline for filing motions would be the Friday before jury selection started.
“The court find this is one that should have been filed prior to trial,” said Collier. “The defense should have known about it prior to trial so the motion to dismiss is denied.”
Hill is accused of using county vehicles, credit cards and gasoline for his personal use. He is also charged with using county employees to campaign for his re-election in 2008 while on the clock.
Findling and co-counsel Steve Frey argued that Hill’s prosecution was motivated by former Sheriff Kem Kimbrough’s drive to keep Hill out of the sheriff’s race in 2012. Hill lost to Kimbrough in 2008 and both men planned to run in 2012. They argued that Kimbrough formed an 11-officer task force to investigate Hill but the primary aggressor was former sheriff’s Investigator David Ward.
Ward’s name came up every day of the trial but he didn’t testify or attend. It was revealed Tuesday that Frey had represented Ward in his civil service appeal of his firing from the Clayton County Police Department. Frey was questioning former sheriff’s Investigator Josh Waites when he asked if he knew Ward had been fired in reference to a racist incident.
Zon objected and said Frey was conveying information he gleaned from once representing Ward before the county’s Civil Service Board. She suggested if the defense wanted to impeach Ward, the attorneys could call him as a witness. Findling immediately jumped up and asked for a sidebar with Collier.
During the sidebar, defense attorneys asked for a mistrial and for Collier to admonish Zon for trying to shift the burden of proof from the state to the defense for the second time during the trial.
“Ms. Zon, you will no longer during this trial make any reference to any burden the defense has in this case,” said Collier outside the presence of the jury. “The defense has no burden to prove anything. The state has the burden.”
Collier said the statements didn’t warrant a mistrial but he would reiterate to the jury that the state has the sole burden of proving the charges against Hill.
Waites’ testimony took most of Tuesday as he confirmed documents showing proof of Hill’s vacations in the months after he lost the August 2008 runoff to Kimbrough.
Hill used both his personal money and county money in making purchases on the trips to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina, said Waites.
Waites also testified about records that show Hill reinstated two corporations he created in 2001 and dissolved in 2004 — Southern Resources and Eagle Optional LLC. Waites testified that Hill used bank accounts for the companies to transfer campaign funds to his personal use.
Hill’s campaign documents appeared to show he paid $7,000 to Southern Resources for political consulting.
Waites said Hill is the only officer of the Nevada-based corporation, he signed the check made out to Southern Resources from the committee to re-elect himself and he deposited the check into the company’s Wachovia account.
Waites said Hill then wrote a $7,000 check from Southern Resources to Eagle Optional LLC, for which Southern Resources is listed in company documents as the general partner.
Frey’s cross-examination of Waites focused not on the validity of the documents but on the motives of the members of Kimbrough’s investigators, several of whom Hill fired on his first day in office in January 2005.
“When you made the comment to Jonathan Newton on not getting a raise in five years because of Victor Hill, were you expressing ill will?” said Frey.
Waites said he wasn’t because he wasn’t even living in Georgia when Hill fired the 27 deputies, including Ward, in 2005.
“You just made it up?” Frey said.
“Yes, I did,” said Waites, explaining it was a tactic used in questioning suspects to gain their confidence.
Newton was indicted in May 2011 for theft and lying, and testified against Hill Monday under promise of immunity. Newton worked under Hill during his first term as sheriff and testified he was forced to help Hill craft his autobiography while on the Clayton County sheriff’s payroll.
Defense witnesses were sheriff’s investigators Jimmy Black, who testified to his surveillance of Hill in the months before he was indicted in January 2012, and Amy Doherty, who handles open records requests.
She testified to getting an open records request from Hill’s defense for the cost of that 48-week surveillance. She said her research showed the operation cost $404,715.20 in manpower and gasoline.
However, she said the cost doesn’t include the value of intangibles such as the price of the investigators being away from other duties.
Under cross-examination by Zon, Doherty said Chief Deputy Shon Hill provided her with the calculations she used to arrive at the final dollar amount.
“The second in command behind this man here, your boss, gave you that information?” said Zon, to which Doherty said, “Yes.”
Doherty also testified that, while she typically charges for researching open records requests based on the lowest-paid employee at $9 an hour, she did not charge the defense team for the information.