Shelnutt turned down plea deal

Attorney refuses to discuss offer's terms

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 28, 2009 

Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt, under a 40-count federal indictment, was offered a plea deal before his May indictment, a prosecutor said in a pre-trial conference Monday.

At the hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land asked Carlton Bourne Jr., special attorney to the attorney general, whether the government had offered a plea deal to Shelnutt.

“There was an offer prior to indictment,” he said. “It was rejected.”

Bourne added that no deal was currently on the table.

One of Shelnutt’s attorneys, Thomas Withers, said he didn’t want to discuss the offer’s terms.

“Suffice it to say, Mr. Shelnutt has declined the government’s plea deal,” Withers said after the hearing. “He plans on going to trial because he’s innocent. He looks forward to putting his fate in the hands of the jury.”

Land’s question came at the end of a hearing that dealt with the process of picking a jury for Shelnutt’s upcoming trial.

Originally scheduled for Sept. 8, Land agreed to set the trial for Nov. 9, after Withers asked for more time to examine some 350 hours of audiotapes.

In his indictment, Shelnutt is accused of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, witness tampering and attempted bribery.

He has been linked by prosecutors to Torrance Hill, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to drug charges and was sentenced to 24 1/2 years in prison.

Several defendants indicted by a federal grand jury are linked to Hill and what authorities call the largest drug bust in Columbus.

Two of them — Shawn Bunkley and Santwan Holt — have already pleaded guilty to drug charges, and Holt was sentenced in June to just less than four years in prison.

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