Medford trial endgame: verdict expected Thursday

Medford trial endgame: verdict expected tomorrow

Defense attorneys for former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford and former reserve Capt. Guy Penland finished up their closing arguments today. Prosecutors shot back — and a verdict is expected tomorrow.

Medford’s lead attorney, Stephen Lindsay, told jurors that Medford’s behavior had not fit in with the pattern of a man involved in a conspiracy to get money from illegal-video-poker operators, pointing out that after FBI agents alerted him that Penland had called in an undercover agent’s license plate in 2005 at the behest of operator Jerry Pennington, the sheriff continued his usual activities.

“Is this how someone would behave after they’re aware an investigation is out there?” Lindsay asked. “Wouldn’t he have laid low, covered his tracks? Instead, he eased Guy Penland out so he wouldn’t be aware an investigation was going on. He knew this [the investigation] was on the horizon. Are those the actions he would take if he was in a conspiracy? I’d suggest to you no.”

He added that Medford’s gambling trips to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, where the government alleges he spent much money he got illegally to feed his gambling habit, had increased after he knew the FBI was investigating video-poker operators.

Lindsay also tried to cast doubt on the government’s witnesses, including former video-poker operators who testified they gave bribes directly to Medford, saying they had motive to testify against Medford to get lenient sentences for their own activities.

“Because he put his trust in others, because they could use his name to stir up fear and get power for their own illegal activities, and he provides the perfect way to get out of trouble,” Lindsay said. “He had a great heart and was always a sheriff for the people.”

Paul Bidwell, Penland’s defense attorney, accused the prosecution of “shock and awe” in an attempt to paint his client as corrupt, asserting that he didn’t break the law because he used personal connections to get new locations for Pennington, a salesman for Henderson Amusement.

“Was he used? Of course he was — but you have to look at the facts. Is there anything he did that was illegal? There wasn’t,” Bidwell said.

He said that when Penland called in the FBI agent’s license plate for Pennington, the other man had told him it was someone “who was hanging around his business and scaring all the ladies. He was just doing a favor for his pal.”

He also pointed out that Penland hadn’t hidden his activities, adding that “if this was a conspiracy, it was run by the three stooges.”

In his rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Edwards said that Bidwell’s interpretation of the law was wrong and that Penland only had to have knowingly furthered an illegal conspiracy, even if he was just a volunteer at the Sheriff’s Office. He also said that Medford hadn’t covered his tracks because the investigation hadn’t targeted him directly — and because he had a gambling addiction.

“The flame needed oxygen, and he kept beating a path to Harrah’s,” Edwards told the jury. “That the conspiracy continued can be attributed to arrogance, power and greed — and what common sense would say was an addiction.”

After receiving instructions from Judge Tim Ellis, the jury decided to wait until 9 a.m. tomorrow to begin their deliberations.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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