"Showing Appreciation" at ESL Voter Fraud Trial
The East St. Louis Voter Fraud Trial was dismissed early on Thursday to give defense lawyers time to prepare for new prosecution witnesses who say they were actually paid by Charles Powell Jr. to vote in the November 2nd election:
The first witness testified two weeks ago that during a telephone conference call in October, she heard prominent Democrat Kelvin Ellis solicit funds from Kern, then a candidate for the job, to pay reluctant voters.
Sandra Stith, a Democrat worker during the Nov. 2 election who already has pleaded guilty to buying votes, is the only other government witness to that call.
She took the stand Thursday and said she remembered the Oct. 21 call. But she said she didn’t remember the alleged discussion about more money being needed to swing the election in Kern’s favor because some residents perceived him as racist. Advertisement
“Do you recall any comments about money during that conversation?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Carr asked her.
“No,” she replied.
Carr ended his questioning of Stith soon after that exchange.
Kern, who would have lost the race without the East St. Louis turnout, has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Carr asked U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy to declare as “hostile” the only witness Carr called to the stand Thursday.
Carr’s reason for the unusual request: Prosecution witness Sandra Stith gave testimony that diverged sharply from her pre-trial interviews with Carr — to the veteran prosecutor’s surprise.
Stith gave “extremely damaging testimony to the government,” Murphy declared after sending the jury out of the courtroom.
Under questioning by defense attorneys, Stith, 54, denied believing that her payments of money to voters was illegal at the time, or that Powell — the chairman of the city’s Democratic Central Committee — had told her to buy votes in the Nov. 2 election.
By giving money to voters in her precinct, Cook said, “You were showing appreciation for taking the time to vote.”
“That’s correct,” said Stith, a Democratic precinct worker who agreed to cooperate with the government after pleading guilty to vote fraud.
“Now look at the hot water you’re in,” Cook said.
Later in the morning, during his turn to cross-examine Stith, defense attorney Pearson Bush likened the dollars Stith had given out on election day to “a tip.”
“Back then you didn’t feel you did anything wrong?” said Bush, the attorney for Johnson.
A few minutes later Carr asked the judge to declare Stith a hostile witness.
Murphy, after sending the jury out of the courtroom, acceded to Carr’s request, on the grounds of Stith had harmed the government’s case, as well as the element of surprise this entailed for prosecutors.
“What is the surprise?” the judge asked.
“The witness made statements different from statements she made in pre-trial interviews,” Carr said.
Murphy asked Carr to be more specific.
Carr said nothing.
Murphy rescinded his decision to declare Stith a hostile witness. “Because there is no showing of surprise,” he said.
Carr tried to undo the damage by getting Stith to admit she knowingly used the money given to her by Bob Sprague, the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee chairman, to buy votes for Democratic candidates in the Nov. 2 election.
“Are there people you have to give money to?” Carr said.
“There are individuals who may not ordinarily come to the polls,” Stith said. “That’s been the way it’s been done for so long.”
“And you knew the money you were receiving — a portion of that was to be used for that,” Carr said.
** Other Developments **
Other controversial developments on Thursday led U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy to send the jury home for the day to allow lawyers to prepare for today’s proceedings.
Today, prosecutors are expected to present witnesses who will testify that Powell directly paid residents to vote, something his lawyer, Bruce Cook, said left him blindsided. Powell is only charged with leading a conspiracy to buy votes, not with purchasing the votes themselves.
Murphy, the judge, said he was surprised, too, but ruled the evidence was admissible. One witness, identified Thursday as Douglas M. Alexander, 45, is expected to testify Powell paid him $10 to vote.
Two others, Stephen Young and his wife, Terrell Crow-Young, had been expected to testify that Powell’s associate paid them to vote Nov. 2, according to a prosecutor’s document filed in the case. But they won’t be allowed to testify because they accidentally attended a portion of the trial Thursday morning. Any witness is supposed to be barred from hearing another’s testimony, so Murphy excluded them.
Authorities have interviewed at least one other man who said that Powell’s associate paid him to vote, according to documents. Cook and other lawyers, who previously had questioned the lack of testimony from actual voters, said Thursday that they wanted extra time to prepare a defense in light of these witnesses.
In addition to Powell, Kelvin Ellis and fellow committeewoman Sheila Thomas, Jesse Lewis and the committee’s secretary, Yvette Johnson, face conspiracy and vote fraud charges.
Here are the previous posts on this trial:
East St. Louis makes Voter Fraud a Business
$5 for Non-Racists; Racists are $10
ESL Prosecution Witness Falters
Damning Tapes in East St. Louis Voter Fraud Trial
Witness Grilled at ESL Vote Fraud Trial
How to Buy Votes at ESL Vote Fraud Trial