- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Former Southaven Mayor Greg Davis will get a new trial on fraud and embezzlement charges after Mississippi’s Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that prosecutors failed to prove Davis could get a fair trial in DeSoto County.

John Champion, DeSoto County’s district attorney, said he intends to retry Davis, who was mayor of the Memphis, Tennessee, suburb from 1997 to 2013.

“Nothing has changed since the first time we tried him,” Champion told The Associated Press.

Champion said it could be two months or more before a new location is chosen and a new trial date set.

Defense lawyer Steve Farese Sr. said he’d like to try the case on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, saying jurors there would be less likely to hold Davis’ sexual orientation against him. Davis said he was gay after an audit showed a $67 city credit card purchase at an adult store in Canada catering to gay men. He later divorced his wife.

“The proof is ready and evident that he cannot get a fair trial in DeSoto County,” Farese said. “The publicity has not died down.”

DeSoto County jurors had convicted Davis of illegally purchasing a city-leased SUV without approval from aldermen in 2009. He bought the $25,000 vehicle for $11,000 before the city had the option to buy it. Davis also was found guilty of getting mileage reimbursement for gas charged to a city-issued card. Davis had been sentenced to 2½ years in prison and 2½ years of supervised parole. He had also been ordered to pay $18,814 in restitution.

Farese said he hoped prosecutors would consider a plea bargain, arguing that Davis’ disgrace has motivated stiffer prosecution.

“This case involves, at the most, $20,000,” Farese said. “These cases are pled out every day for probation.”

In its 7-0 decision, the Court of Appeals noted that 62 of 88 people in the jury pool said they’d seen or read news coverage of the Davis case, including 11 of the 14 people picked as jurors or alternates.

“With these numbers, the trial court should have granted, and the state should have conceded as it suggested it would, the change-of-venue motion” Judge David Ishee wrote.

The court said DeSoto County Circuit Judge Robert Chamberlin should have demanded that the state present evidence that Davis could get a fair trial in DeSoto County after the defense presented evidence in an earlier hearing claiming he couldn’t. Instead, Chamberlin ruled after the jury was selected that the trial could go ahead.

The criminal conviction is just one of the troubles that emerged for Davis after State Auditor Stacey Pickering flagged Davis for $170,000 in improper spending using city credit cards, as well as using city gasoline on trips for which he also sought mileage reimbursement. The personal expenses included trips, clothes, expensive dinners, entertainment and family counseling at an upscale clinic in Arizona.

Davis paid $96,000 back using money donated by anonymous supporters but was sued for $74,000 by Pickering’s office. In a separate case in December, the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s order that Davis repay that money.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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