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The Political Round-Up

Nodine case: what a long, strange trip it's been; Cain able to edge Paul; Beddy bye time; Bedford demurs; Brown doubts Danny;
MCREC 2 not ousted; Jetsam & flotsam; Graddick campaign fete;
LWV-Mobile offers course on local politics

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Prosecuting a murder case is rarely easy, but the process of trying ex-Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine in the shooting death 18 months ago of his paramour may prove difficult times ten.

Veteran Baldwin County prosecutor David Whetstone, now retired, recently became at least the fourth prosecutor to touch the Nodine file. Nine or more different attorneys have to greater or lesser degrees been involved in Nodine's defense.

Whetstone's task may be akin to unscrambling scrambled eggs. How did it come to that?

Angel Downs died on Mother's Day 2010 in the driveway of her townhouse along Fort Morgan Road in Gulf Shores. Neighbors reported seeing Nodine's truck leaving the scene within seconds of the gunshot.

Although police could have found probable cause to arrest Nodine for Downs' murder, then Baldwin County District Attorney Judy Newcomb, facing strong challengers in her campaign to win a full term as the county's top prosecutor, broke the land speed record getting the case to a grand jury which indicted Nodine for murder. She contended Nodine fired the gun. The defense argued that evidence and Downs' own history pointed toward suicide. Almost a year ago a Baldwin County jury was stymied in its deliberations at 9-3 in favor of a guilty verdict.

The torturous path to a retrial had been led until just recently by another veteran prosecutor Hallie Dixon who defeated her rival, among others, to become the new district attorney in Baldwin County. If Newcomb was the hare, then Dixon was the tortoise. She and her investigators painstakingly revisited the case until ultimately at long last she oversaw a grand jury that stunningly returned an indictment that presaged the dismissal of the standing murder indictment in favor of one that charged misdemeanor criminally negligent homicide and not felony murder.      

Such dramatically different interpretations of the case suggested by the indictments brought on Newcomb's watch and then under Dixon are bound to create some tricky legal rapids for Whetstone to navigate especially as he intends to pursue the earlier murder charge as a special prosecutor for the Attorney General's office. Anticipating the likely Dixon motion to ask Circuit Judge Charles Partin to dismiss the murder charge so the prosecution could proceed with its fresher misdemeanor case, Attorney General Luther Strange stepped in and tapped Whetstone to head the prosecution for the state. While not conceding that Nodine didn't fire the handgun, Whetstone maintains that there is enough evidence for a jury to conclude that he did fire the gun, but the law also allows the jury to find Nodine guilty of felony murder for abusive behavior that brought about her death.

An example of criminal activity that may result in a felony murder charge despite the seeming remove of the defendant would be a convenience store robbery in which a clerk backing away from a gunman trips, hits her head on a counter and dies from the injury. Or perhaps the robber flees, is shot at by a police officer whose bullet fatally strikes an unfortunate onlooker. Under Alabama law, the deaths in either instance could be prosecuted as murders because the robber's criminal acts caused the deaths.

Alabama's criminal code reads, in part, that a person commits murder if "he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence causes the death of another person ..."

As to criminally negligent homicide, the code reads in part: "A person commits the crime of criminally negligent homicide if he causes the death of another person by criminal negligence."

Whetstone seems prepared to argue that Nodine's stalking of Downs so psychologically diminished her that a jury could fairly conclude under Alabama law that his criminal conduct directed her action, thus her murder by him, even if the jury believes, as several forensic experts have said, she herself pulled the trigger.

Now even as savvy and Baldwin County-calibrated a trial lawyer as Whetstone has set himself a tall order to convince 12 jurors to unanimously decide that a person who may have had existing suicidal tendencies and herself may well have pulled the trigger of her own handgun that sent a bullet through her head was not responsible for her own death. Given some facts and his insight into the people who come to sit as jurors in Baldwin County, Whetstone is probably positioned as well as anyone in the world to successfully argue the case to a Baldwin County's verdict of guilt. And in working toward a murder conviction, Whetstone doesn't sacrifice the jury's option of finding Nodine culpable merely of misdemeanor criminally negligent homicide which would remain available as a lesser included offense.

But area lawyers say it would be foolish to sell short a prosecutor such as Whetstone whose ability to pick, read and win a jury is unquestioned, certainly in the courtrooms of Baldwin County.

For instance, Alabama law could be paralleled with 9/11 as a possibly effective example. Osama bin Laden did not fly any airplanes into either of the Twin Towers. Was he therefore not guilty of murder in the deaths of so many innocent victims? If you are Steve Nodine, you would not enjoy watching the jury absorb that one. As a juror would you find bin Laden's role murderous or merely negligent? Or another example, perhaps also resonant for some older Baldwin countians: Did Teddy Kennedy at Chappaquiddick commit a misdemeanor in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne when he crashed his car into a lake, leaving her to drown while he rushed off to make a phone call, not to emergency responders, but first to a lawyer?  

Will Whetstone or any other prosecutor even get the chance to make those types of arguments to any jury, much less a Baldwin County jury? First of all, the divergent Newcomb and Dixon approaches may have made a hash of the case and limited the prosecution to the less harsh of the two theories. Partin will listen to arguments and make the call. And further, it has been widely if not officially known that the parties, not including Whetstone, had all virtually conceded the need to change the trial's venue from Baldwin County because of potentially prejudicial news coverage, even going as far as identifying Dothan as the best location away from the I-65 corridor to conduct the Nodine trial. For his part, Whetstone has been emphatic that a fair trial could and should be conducted in Baldwin County where the crime occurred.                    

Whetstone is prepared to argue that Nodine's stalking of Downs ultimately caused her death and he is guilty of murder whether or not he actually pulled the trigger. 
Newcomb remains adamant that the evidence supports a charge of murder, that Nodine did indeed fire the weapon. Dixon demurred at length in a recent and widely copied and circulated letter to Strange explaining her position. It reads in part:

"After four days of hearing the evidence, the Grand Jury no billed felony murder, manslaughter (both heat of passion and reckless) and stalking. The Grand Jurors were faithful to their duty, gave due consideration and voted their conscience in accordance with the evidence. Thus, having spent months reviewing the evidence and obtaining answers to questions, my office fully supports the decision of its citizens to proceed with Criminally
Negligent Homicide.

While that decision is now yours, it is incumbent on me to explain my office’s previously planned course of action and the communication of that course to the Defense attorneys. Due to the fact that the Grand Jury has made a finding of no probable cause on all charges other than
criminally negligent homicide, I do not believe that the previous indictment can be pursued at this time. My office intended to request that the Court quash the initial indictment and supersede with the current indictment. My office explained this to the Defendant’s attorneys and was prepared to effectuate this planned course of action at the October 26, 2011 hearing. While I do not believe said representation of our intent was necessarily legally binding, we did communicate
that plan to the defense.

Also, please be aware that, according to our research of the issue, as long as the new indictment
replaces the old, there should be no issue with the statute of limitations, as it was tolled by the
original arrest and indictment against the Defendant.

On behalf of those who have spent so much time and effort and based on the evidence that I have reviewed, I sincerely want to see Mr. Nodine face trial for his responsibility in the death of Angel Downs. I maintain an abiding faith in our justice system and believe a jury of Mr. Nodine’s peers should determine whether, based
on all the evidence, he should be held criminally accountable for his actions."
Mobile criminal defense attorney Dennis Knizley led Nodine's defense at the earlier trial. He is now an interested onlooker with Baldwin County attorneys Pascal Bruijn and John Beck having taken over the defense.

According to Knizley, Dixon's letter doesn't legally bind the state or prevent it from prosecuting the murder and stalking charges in the second of the three indictments. But he suggested the letter is valuable in support of Nodine's contention that the judge should enforce an agreement to dismiss the second, more culpable indictment and to dismiss on the grounds of prosecutorial bad faith and due process.

According to Knizley, the motion to dismiss for bad faith is stronger than the argument to enforce an agreement to dismiss. Then again, the "bad faith" motion does not have any precedent in Alabama and the authority cited in the motion isn't "directly on point."

"... but finding any precedent in this bizarre saga, on point or otherwise, is difficult in this case," said Knizley.

Still, the "bad faith" motion has merit, said Knizley.

The many twists and turns of the case since Downs' death have complicated the prosecution, Knizley acknowledged, noting that Dixon's letter was no service to Whetstone.

"The whole scenario is unhealthy for the justice system in Baldwin County," Knizley observed.

The case is expected to be retried next spring.

Nodine is presently in a federal prison in south Florida on his conviction for possessing firearms while also an abuser of prescription drugs.

Ken Raines, an attorney representing the Downs' family, most of whom reside in Georgia, declined comment on the recent developments.

Campaign tidbits
Mobile attorney Eaton Barnard, a GOP candidate for the circuit judgeship being vacated by Judge Jim Wood, has released his latest campaign video spot. State Sen. Ben Brooks is also in the hunt for the judgeship.

Keahey's welcome baby girl
State Sen. Marc Keahey (D-Grove Hill, Dis. 22), Lara Keahey, Marc II and Scarlette welcomed the newest addition to their family, Laren Louise Keahey on Thursday, Sept. 8.

Laren Louise was born at 3:04 p.m. at the Mobile Infirmary in Mobile, Ala. and weighed 8 lbs. 5 oz. Grandparents are Ronnie and Lainie Keahey, from Grove Hill, and Johnny and Linda Bishop, from Roanoke, Ala.

Cain able to nip Paul
Businessman Herman Cain bested Congressman Ron Paul of Texas in a battle of grassroots turnout versus organizational strength for a close victory at an Alabama Republican Straw Poll in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

Cain claimed 176 votes out of the 347 cast (50 percent), to Ron Paul’s 44 percent. The West Alabama Republican Assembly, UA College Republicans and Tuscaloosa Young Republicans sponsored the straw poll. Voters from all corners of the state attended the event held at the Bryant Conference Center.

“This event was open to all Republican presidential candidates,” said DeWayne Fowler, president of the West Alabama Republican Assembly. “All campaigns were contacted. We were excited to see a turnout of 25 percent more than the 2007 event, despite students being out for fall break and with a number of other political events throughout the state this weekend. We had representatives for the Paul, Perry, and Gingrich campaigns as well. State presentations were also made for Chuck Malone, Don Chamberlain, Kathy Peterson, and Judge Roy Moore. We even had Tokyo News represented.”

Tuscaloosa County Commissioner Don Wallace said other events were held by the campaigns, including a fundraiser, concert and organizational meetings.

Cain held an early morning fundraiser at the Hotel Capstone and met with about 35 grassroots leaders and special guests in a separate function also.

Organizers emphasized that the Republican Assembly was not endorsing candidates, but the poll represented the choice of those attending the straw poll.

“This was clearly a victory for Herman Cain," said Wallace. "This event was an opportunity for campaigns to flex their grassroots muscle. No one paid these people to show up. No major network advertised this event.”

The Alabama Republican Assembly is affiliated with the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, a membership-based organization that dubs itself the “Republican Wing of the Republican Party.”

“We’re strong, limited government, Ronald Reagan conservatives,” said Fowler.

Beddy Bye Time
Starting Tuesday, Nov. 1, Mobile police will enforce the nighttime version of the city’s new Juvenile Curfew, which targets teens 17-years-old and younger.

Mayor Sam Jones, who recommended the curfew, said, “Everyone must do their part to ensure the safety of our children and the community. This curfew is not about arresting children, but about a parental accountability, a change in behavior and a sincere desire to see youngsters live a long and prosperous life.”

The citywide nighttime curfew hours during weekdays are from 11 p.m. through 6 a.m. and 12:01 p.m. through 6 a.m. on weekends.

In the downtown entertainment district, the curfew hours are 10 p.m. through 5 a.m.

The daytime curfew will go into effect on January 1, 2012, during the hours of 9 a.m. through 2:30 p.m.

The mayor said the Curfew Assessment Center, located at the corner of St. Anthony and Broad streets is not intended as a jail for juveniles, but a holding facility until parents or a responsible adult can be reached. If additional services are needed by the juvenile’s family, the center, which will be run by the Police Department Intervention Team, will also be linked to the Mobile County Public School System, Department of Human Resources, Strickland Youth Center and other social services organizations. 

“By working closely with our partners, we can develop a proactive and far-reaching approach to helping our children stay in school and become productive members of the community,” Jones said.

To ensure that youngsters, parents and the community are knowledgeable about the curfew, the city has launched an awareness campaign that includes:

In addition, the city will schedule some open house “informational sessions,” at the Curfew Assessment Center.

For more information, call Barbara Drummond at (251) 208-7807.

Old dog begs off new trick
After six terms in the Alabama state Senate, Roger Bedford is an old dog and commanding the Alabama Education Association would be a decidedly new trick, albeit one he would appear well-suited to perform.

Even so, the Russellville solon, among the most rumored of possible successors to legendary AEA boss Paul Hubbert, has chosen to stay put.

Bedford issued, in part, the following statement on Thursday:

"Since Dr. Paul Hubbert has announced his plans to retire, I have been honored to have been asked by many people to put my name into consideration for the position of Executive Director of the Alabama Educa
tion Association. Many educators, public officials and citizens across Alabama have encouraged me to apply because of my longtime support of education, students and teachers as well as my dedication to public service.

However, after much prayer and serious consideration, I believe I can best serve the people of Alabama from my position in the Senate. I am now in my sixth term in office, and I believe the Senate is where I can continue to provide the greatest service to our state."

Brown doubts Danny
Sports and political analyst Danny Sheridan makes Mobile Mayor Sam Jones an overwhelming 1,000-1 favorite to win re-election in 2013 despite a series of demoralizing setbacks for the city on Jones' watch, from the failure to land the huge military refueling tanker contract for Brookley Field to the loss of a Carnival cruise ship among other disappointments.

As an experienced politician whose voter base has grown since 2005 when he first won the mayorship, the city's first black mayor is nearly invulnerable, according to Sheridan.

Not everyone is buying what Sheridan is selling, though. Tilmon Brown for one. A real estate developer specializing in historic properties, Brown, 57, has expressed an interest in seeking the office, as has lumber executive Sandy Stimpson and a couple of others.

Jones is, in fact, beatable, said Brown who pointed to any number of political sure things that in the end were not the locks that the experts would have the public believe.    

"First, let me point out, there were those, Mr. Sheridan sometimes included, who said, Robert Bentley could never beat Bradley Byrne, and Ron Sparks could never beat Artur Davis, and then there is Scott Brown who won over Martha Coakley in Ted Kennedy's district, or how about Chris Christie overcoming insurmountable odds to beat incumbent Jon Corzine, or Barack Obama could never possibly overcome Hillary Clinton and the Clinton machine, and finally how about Abraham Lincoln, who could never ever beat Stephen Douglas and change the course of American history," said Brown.

One doesn't require a long memory to know that "the political landscape is littered with candidates that could never be beaten," noted Brown.

Sheridan denied ever setting odds on any of the candidates mentioned by Brown.

"Placing rational odds at this point have nothing to do with any political race in the past," said Sheridan. "I said the odds were 1,000:1 today that Sam Jones would win, NOT that he couldn't be beaten. These odds may increase as the election gets closer or decrease, but if Sam Jones runs, he will win and Mr. Brown will finish third or fourth in this five-person field.

Sheridan is just someone "who guesses the future," Brown scoffed, and he is out of touch with the frustration of Mobile's citizenry.

Sheridan said his observations were grounded in facts, objectivity and decades of experience.

"My odds are based on sound reasoning, including what I think the majority of Mobilians will do on election day," said Sheridan.

"I submit that Mr. Sheridan has no first hand knowledge of the sentiments, and deep concern of the citizens of Mobile and their feelings toward the future of this great city," said Brown. "Nor does he realize that those very same citizens, are tired of living in a city that is run by people who think that mediocrity is good enough, or in my words, a "Thisaldo" city, a city that is run by those who believe that since it is much too hard to make the difficult decisions and create something great, they simply settle for 'This will Do.' Well, not me.
I believe that we should never stop striving to be what we can truly be, a great city, a one of a kind city, the premier city on the Gulf Coast with no equal, a city that we no longer make excuses for, but one that we are proud to claim."

"I 'submit' I have more first hand knowledge of what the majority of Mobilians in this election will do than" Brown, said Sheridan, questioning the prospective candidate's objectivity.

"I don't question his beliefs which seem to be honorable," Sheridan said. "However, my job is to make odds objectively and in this case I went a step further and gave reasons for them."

"To cut to the chase," Brown added, Sheridan won't decide who is Mobile's next mayor and his non-scientific predictions matter just a fraction, the prognosticator's one vote, the same as any one of the thousands of citizens who vote in August, 2013.

Sheridan said he neither claimed nor implied that he would "decide the next mayor of Mobile."

"... this sounds like major sour grapes, as one could bet anything that had I made him the favorite to win, he'd be writing  complimentary things about me," said Sheridan.

If Brown really wants to "cut to the chase," Sheridan suggested Brown "put your money where your mouth is."

A $10,000 minimum bet (with Sheridan's winnings, should he win, going to charity) ought to authenticate their positions, said Sheridan.

"If someone disagrees with my early analysis, I respect their right to do so, but if they truly feel I'm incorrect, they need to wager me $10,000-plus that Sam Jones will not be Mobile's next mayor," said Sheridan, adding that the wager requires that Jones runs for re-election.

With the election almost two years away, Brown questioned "Sheridan's motives for making such a bizarre prognostication so far in advance of an election."

"If I decide to run, it will be out of my desire for a much better Mobile than what we are mired in today, not because of some silly bet with a gambling oddsmaker," Brown said.

Mobile Baykeeper leader to speak at NRDA meets
Casi Callaway, Executive Director & Baykeeper of Mobile Baykeeper, this week will speak at two conferences in the Washington, D.C. area – NRDA for the Gulf and the second annual White House GreenGov Symposium.

At both events, Callaway will share the perspective of the people of Alabama and their struggle to restore their environment after impacts from Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf of Mexico 2010 oil disaster.

“The world needs to continue to understand how these disasters have not only impacted the people of Alabama and the Gulf Coast, but the rest of America and the world,” commented Callaway.

On Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., she will appear on the Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief panel at the Washington Hilton. Callaway is scheduled Friday at 1:30 PM to speak at the National Aquarium.

Callaway is responsible for coordinating advocacy, public education; community organizing; research and fundraising. Mobile Baykeeper has over 4,000 members and deals with issues that impact the environment and Gulf communities including sewage, air toxics, mercury exposure, permit violations, industrial growth and other public health protection issues.

Information about the symposium follows:

NRDA for the Gulf: Improving Our Ability
to Quantify Chronic Changes

GreenGov Symposium

Two MCREC members not shunned
Two members of the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee, under fire for favoring a Constitution Party contender more than the GOP nominee in a special House 105 election earlier this year, will remain on MCREC.

The ouster of Michael Burdine and Lee James was sought in the wake of the election in which they declared Constitution Party candidate Bill Atkinson to be the true conservative on the ballot when compared with GOP nominee and ultimate winner David Sessions.

Meeting earlier this month, the MCREC failed to record the two-thirds vote required by the bylaws to rescind the pair's membership.  

Burdine had also sought the GOP nomination.

The election was held because former state Rep. Spencer Collier vacated the office to accept Gov. Robert Bentley's invitation that he join the administration as director of Alabama's Department of Homeland Security.

In other MCREC activity, a grassroots effort to place the names of Presidential contenders on the Alabama Republican Party ballot this year was conducted. The state party requires a petition in behalf of a candidate bearing 50 names for each congressional district (total 350) or a statewide total of 500 regardless of congressional district, along with a $10,000 qualifying fee. MCREC forwarded the petitions to state party officials.

MCREC also passed two resolutions: one honoring the life and service of former State Sen. Hap Myers and, two, asking the Alabama State Board of Education to rescind its November 2010 vote for a national education policy called the Common Core State Standards Initiative. MCREC joined the Alabama GOP Executive Committee and many other county committees in decrying CCSSI.

"There is a massive movement in the state of Alabama to rescind this 'ObamaEd' program," said MCREC Chairperson Terry Lathan. "The CCSSI is basically a 'one size fits all' in our education system that nationalizes the curriculum, school books, etc. etc. for public schools. It is possible that a committee in D.C. can write what is taught and choose our books leaving the local state and counties sitting on the sidelines. It was not authorized by Congress or the vote of the people but rather through the Obama administration and 'committees.'"

According to Lathan, a former school teacher herself, state legislators are also demanding that the state Board of Education reverse itself on CCSSI. State school board candidates are being questioned about their position on CCSSI, said Lathan.

The Biennial Convention of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women in Huntsville next week is expected to have a floor vote on an anti-CCSSI resolution. And likewise action is anticipated on CCSSI when the full Alabama Republican Party holds its winter meeting.

Graddick fundraiser scheduled
A reception to raise money to fuel Mobile County Presiding Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick's campaign for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is scheduled at the Fort Conde Inn in downtown Mobile Thursday, Nov. 3 from 5-7 p.m.

There are about 150 hosts and hostesses for the event. Among them are:

Incumbent Chief Justice Charles Malone is running for a full term after drawing an appointment to the court from Gov. Robert Bentley this summer after Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb retired.

Both Graddick and Malone are Republicans.

The Fort Conde Inn is located at 165 St. Emanuel St.

Obama for America Mobile doings
Democratic phone banks in Mobile County are underway and more than 500 calls were made on a recent Thursday evening, according to Obama worker Ty Burden. She reported that locally the re-elect Obama effort was "on target." Phone banks will continue each Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at local Democratic Headquarters, 918 Government St. next to Compass Bank near Broad St.

League of Women Voters
offers course in local politics
The League of Women Voters will a new course -- Civics 101:  Your Government Today -- A Venture into Local Politics -- beginning Thursday, Sept. 29 from 11 a.m-12 noon at Dauphin Way Methodist Church, Room E205, 1507 Dauphin St. (corner of Catherine St.), according to LWV of Mobile spokeswoman Mary McGinnis.

The public is invited to attend the entire course or come to the classes that fit an individual's schedule. Each class is taught by a different guest speaker knowledgeable about the topic, according to McGinnis.

The remaining lecture topics and schedule are:

The course is open to all. For more information call 251-378-8378 or email
350 Dauphin St.
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