Land doesn't dismiss charges, Shelnutt federal corruption trial to start Monday

After a 90-minute pretrial hearing Friday morning, attorneys on both sides of the federal corruption trial of Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt told the judge they were ready to proceed.

Shelnutt, a criminal defense attorney who represented those charged with drug offenses, faces money laundering, aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, witness tampering and bribery charges in the trial that begins Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

Shelnutt will stand trial on all 40 counts in the indictment after Judge Clay Land refused to dismiss 34 of the charges at the request of Shelnutt’s attorneys.

Much of Friday’s hearing in front of U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land dealt with jury selection.

The panel will be picked Monday from a pool of about 120 prospective jurors. That will be whittled to 12 jurors and four alternates.

About 16 potential jurors were disqualified Friday morning based on answers to a pretrial questionnaire.

“A number have indicated they know something about this case and think they have made up their mind,” Land said.

Lead prosecutor Carlton R. Bourne Jr. asked to discuss the potential jury list with local law enforcement over the weekend and the defense asked to discuss the list with several local attorneys prior to trial. Land had no objection to that.

Land did reject one attempt by the defense to get two charges in the 40-count indictment dismissed.

Land denied a motion from the defense to dismiss charges that allege Shelnutt failed to file proper governmental forms for cash transactions of more than $10,000. The defense claimed the statute of limitations had expired on those charges.

“The court finds, based upon the charge made in the indictment, that the 5-year statute of limitation is applicable rather than the 3-year,” Land said.

Land also denied Shelnutt’s request to dismiss 32 counts of the indictment. All of the charges Shelnutt is seeking to have thrown out involve money laundering allegations.

Shelnutt’s defense asserts the grand jury was misinformed and could not have found probable cause that Shelnutt engaged in, or conspired to engage in, money laundering.

“The statements and testimony by the government, Torrance Hill and Special Agent (Steven) Ribolla to the grand jury to the effect that mere receipt of drug proceeds establishes money laundering, or conspiracy to commit laundering was a wholly erroneous characterization of the facts ...” Shelnutt’s motion states.

In a written order, Land stated: “Having reviewed defendant’s motion to dismiss the money laundering counts and having reviewed in camera the grand jury testimony of the agent who testified as to those counts, the court denies defendant’s motion to dismiss.”

Land said he would issue a ruling before the end of the day Friday on another defense motion.

Shelnutt’s defense has sought a Columbus Police Department case file in the unsolved homicide of Edward Earl Taylor Jr., 41. He was fatally shot May 15, 2004, as he worked inside High Tech Transmission on Manchester Expressway.

The prosecution objected to the request. The city of Columbus, represented by assistant City Attorney Jaimie DeLoach, supported the prosecution’s position.

Shelnutt’s attorney Craig A. Gillen argued it was relevant, but did not want to reveal the reason in open court because it would compromise the defense team’s trial strategy.

Land asked that the file be delivered to him so he could review it. The judge closed the courtroom, and the defense team and Shelnutt met with Land and court personnel at the conclusion of the hearing. The prosecutors were not in the room.

Land set a trial schedule that will run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. once the jury is selected and seated.

“Eight a.m. means 8 a.m. It does not mean 8:05 or 8:10,” Land told the court. “... It works beautifully as long as the lawyers, court personnel and jurors stay on schedule.”

The trial schedule will include a 15-minute break in the morning and a 30-minute lunch break at 12:15 p.m.

Part of the reason for doing it is out of consideration for the jurors who could be away from their businesses and offices for two weeks or more, the judge said.

“This allows a juror to leave here at 2:30, go by the office and return phone calls or answer e-mails,” Land said.

It appears the trial could last two weeks.

The prosecution, which will present its case first, told the judge it could likely be finished in four or five days. Land then asked Shelnutt’s attorneys if they could conclude the defense and have the trial to the jury by the Thursday of the second week. Attorney Thomas A. Withers said he thought that was possible.