Court unseals records related to Shelnutt case

Columbus attorney says documents vital to his defense

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 1, 2009 

Sealed documents pertaining to the federal case against Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt were unsealed Tuesday.

Shelnutt requested the action two weeks ago in an effort to get materials essential to his defense, the attorney said in court filings.

The documents were sealed in the cases of Torrance Hill, Choici Lawrence, Antonio Reese and Shawn Bunkley — all linked by authorities to what police have called the largest drug bust in Columbus.

The granting of Shelnutt’s motion, which the government didn’t oppose, reveals details about Hill’s release on bond and confirms a number of defendants have worked with the government.

“Defendant has been cooperating with the government in an ongoing money laundering/narcotics investigation out of the Middle District of Georgia,” state motions filed in January by Assistant District Attorney Jason Ferguson in the cases of Lawrence, Bunkley and Reese. “Defendant is hopeful that his cooperation will ultimately lead to an alternative disposition in his case that is more favorable than going to trial.”

In his June 15 motion, Shelnutt said secrecy isn’t necessary anymore, claiming Hill, Bunkley and Latea Davis — another defendant linked to the drug bust — are government witnesses.

“At this point, secrecy violates the defendant’s right to due process and right to effective counsel because the defendant is entitled to use the sealed materials to prepare his defense,” Shelnutt states.

Shelnutt is accused of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, witness tampering and attempted bribery. The indictment alleges a connection between Shelnutt and Hill, a convicted drug dealer whom Shelnutt represented. Hill pleaded guilty in federal court in December 2006. He was sentenced in February 2007 to 24 1/2 years in prison.

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