MARK SHELNUTT ACQUITTAL: Family, friends celebrate verdict

Friends and family were crowded around the door leading into Mark Shelnutt’s office after his acquittal Wednesday afternoon.

Jana Tarleton was one of them. A friend of Shelnutt’s since she moved to Columbus in 1993, she said that when she and other friends first heard of the accusations against him, they knew they weren’t true.

“Mark Shelnutt is one of the most trustworthy, Christian, family-oriented family men I’ve ever met,” Tarleton said. “My children and my husband have come to celebrate this great day, because we knew he was not guilty.”

Larry Wilborn, who was also at Shelnutt’s office around 4:30 p.m., said the day was about Shelnutt and his victory.

“He did not cop out,” Wilborn said. “He did not take any pleas. He fought them and he won. Today is a good day.”

Standing outside his office, shielding his eyes from the sun, Shelnutt agreed. “Today was wonderful,” he said.

Shelnutt was found not guilty of 36 counts, including aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, attempted bribery and making false statements. Four counts, including two of failing to file a financial form and one count each of witness tampering and making false statements, were dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land before the eight-day trial ended.

Bruce Toole has known Shelnutt for 30 years and calls him his personal lawyer and friend.

“What they did, I think, was a violation of their powers,” Toole said of the government’s prosecution. “Their case was very weak.”Tarleton said it was a great day for all of Shelnutt’s supporters.

“We got to see that a man could actually have false charges brought against him and have his day in court, because he knew he was innocent from the beginning,” she said. “We all did.”