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MARK SHELNUTT TRIAL| Judge sends jury home for night

The jury in the drug and money-laundering trial of Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt was sent home for the evening about 5 p.m. Tuesday after deliberating for almost four hours.

U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land called everyone into the courtroom at 4:55. The seven men and five women all walked into the jury box with stern expressions on their faces. Several of the women on the jury clutched their purses in their laps as they settled into the jury box.

As he has each day, Land instructed them not to read or watch any reports on the trial.

"It is as important as it ever was not to discuss this case with any one," the judge told the jurors just before sending them home.

The deliberations will resume at 8:30 Wednesday morning. The judge has not released the four alternate jurors and they are being held in a different room from the jury. The alternates are unable to discuss the case among themselves.

Shortly before 4 p.m. U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land called the attorneys from both sides into his chambers. They stayed for less than five minutes.

There was no word on what was discussed.

At 12:45 p.m., the federal jury that will decide the Shelnutt's fate got the case from U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land.

Land spent almost 50 minutes carefully, and at times with a booming voice, instructing the seven men and five women in the law they must use to determine their verdicts on 36 charges.

After lead prosecutor Carlton Bourne finished the government's rebuttal of the defense's closing argument, Land locked the courtroom and began his charge, which he went over with the attorneys on both sides late Monday.

Land, as the prosecution did before him, broke the government's case down to four categories -- money laundering, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, bribery and making false statements to federal agents.

He explained the law in each charge, at times in painstaking detail and simple language.

Four people on the jury had taken limited notes during the trial, but all the jurors had notepads, provided by the court, open during Land's instructions.

He told them they must reach verdicts on all 36 counts and the verdicts must be unanimous.

"You will never have to explain your verdict to anyone," Land told them as he said their deliberations must be conducted in secret.

He also warned them to hold true to their convictions.

"Do not give away honest beliefs solely because others on the jury may think differently than you or just to get the case over," Land said.

The panel was going to eat lunch in the jury room as the exhibits were taken to them on the third floor of the Columbus federal courthouse.

He told the attorneys on both sides they could leave the courthouse for lunch, but to be back in an hour.

In a 90-minute closing argument, defense attorney Tom Withers told the jury Shelnutt sat before them a "shattered man," wrongly accused by the federal government .

Withers pointed out that the government's case against Shelnutt has been falling apart since the trial began a week ago. What started as a 40-count indictment on aiding and and abetting the conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, witness tampering, bribery, making false statements to FBI agents and failing to file proper government financial forms is now down to 36 counts that will likely go to the jury in a couple of hours.

Withers said the prosecution was trying to get the jury to convict Shelnutt on a couple of the counts.

"They want you to find on one, or two, or three counts," he said as he stood next to the prosecution table. "It is like a machine gun with 36 rounds. They want to hit him in the heart with one of those shots. You do that and the people at this table will have the biggest smile you have ever seen."

Earlier, prosecutor David Stewart laid out the government's case against Shelnutt in a 40-minute closing argument. Stewart was stiff and stood behind the lectern most of the time. Withers, on the other hand, was pacing in front of the jury, making his case in a more animated manner.

And Withers was pointing the finger at law enforcement, which he said overstepped its bounds. He pointed out that law enforcement agents -- Steve Ribolla with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Todd Kalish with the FBI and John Memmo with the Metro Narcotics Task Force -- did not testify in the case.

"They can get out in the community and infect the community, they can ruin his reputation, they can ruin his practice, but they cannot take away his liberty," Withers said.

The prosecution will get one more closing statement before Land instructs the jury on the facts it will use to decide this case.

Stewart said the 36 charges Shelnutt faces for his role in the Torrance "Bookie" Hill drug organization can be peeled off into four categories -- money laundering, aiding and abetting a drug conspiracy, bribery and making false statements to the FBI.

Stewart was matter-of-fact, his voice rarely rising, as he spoke to the jury of seven men and five women. Shelnutt sat at the defense table, flanked by his two lawyers, Craig Gillen of Atlanta and Tom Withers of Savannah. Shelnutt's former wife, Chris Shelnutt, and his two teenage children sat on the front row, as did his new wife, Mollie and his two sisters, who have been in the courtroom for most of the trial. On the second row were some of Shelnutt's friends and supporters from St. Luke United Methodist, his home church.

After Stewart finished his closing argument, U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land called for a brief recess. The defense will make its closing arguments when the trial resumes.

Stewart repeatedly said Shelnutt crossed the line going from attorney to advocate in the drug organization.

"How did the defendant cross the line?" Stewart asked. "First, you heard how he tried to take control of the conspiracy. You have heard talk of preventing people from rolling on each other -- stick together, keep your mouth shut and keep the organization alive."

The jury is expected to get the case early this afternoon.

Continue to follow the story on Ledger-Enquirer.com.

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