Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
Sun Herald, Biloxi, on ex-sheriff Mike Byrd charges:
Perhaps if Chief U.S. District Judge William Steele had had a more complete picture of Mike Byrd’s tenure as sheriff of Jackson County, the judge would have ruled in favor of the Sun Herald’s request to see the letters written to the court on behalf of Byrd.
But thanks to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Byrd came before Steele with just one felony charge against him.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed not to bring any additional charges against Byrd if he would plead guilty to one.
No wonder Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Bordenkircher could boast: “This case was quickly investigated and handled in an expeditious manner. Given the totality of the circumstances, I thought it was a very just decision by the court.”
But Bordenkircher’s office did not offer Judge Steele anything approaching “the totality of the circumstances.”
The best chance of that happening was in a state court in Jackson County, where a circuit judge was expected to preside over a trial in which Byrd faced 29 state felonies and two misdemeanors.
But in an even more egregious plea bargain agreement, District Attorney Tony Lawrence tossed out 28 of the felonies and both of the misdemeanors in exchange for Byrd pleading guilty on just one felony.
It was in this generous prosecutorial atmosphere that Byrd wound up pleading guilty to one federal felony and one state felony and being sentenced to six months’ house arrest, charged a fine and placed under a few years of supervision.
While the U.S. Attorney’s Office was congratulating itself on its expeditious handling of the Byrd case, Lawrence was trying to convince his constituents he’d acted “in the best interest of the county.”
Lawrence had, after all, set in motion the process that removed Byrd from office. But his removal from office under these circumstances denied his accusers and victims their day in court.
Though never tested in court, the state’s charges against Byrd portray him as a sheriff who allegedly used his office to retaliate against perceived enemies; order deputies and office staff to raise money for private causes; conceal a shooting in the county narcotics task force office; pressure witnesses to testify falsely in grand jury cases; demand free lawn mower repair; and punish a female deputy who rebuffed his sexual advances.
Yet at least two dozen people wrote to Judge Steele describing Byrd as “dedicated, having high integrity, honorable.”