Government Comes Up Limp In First Wildlife Refuge Case
The background, from last July:
A prominent Huntsville attorney and a school principal were among more than two dozen people accused of public indecency and lewdness during last weekend’s undercover sting at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. . . .
Federal authorities conducted an undercover sweep at the refuge last Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in response to complaints that men meet there for illicit sexual encounters. Similar operations the last two years also resulted in arrests.
The first case went to trial yesterday, and the Government shot blanks:
Did they chastise the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or evaluate witness credibility?
Lawyers may debate the issue for years, but a Decatur federal jury debated only 20 minutes Monday to find a Huntsville man not guilty of engaging in sexual contact without consent or permission at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge.
The defendant, Anthony Gentry, 59, of Huntsville, said his hand contacted the mid-section of an undercover federal agent, but the contact was accidental. The undercover agent, Savannah, Ga.-based Refuge Officer Greg Blanks, said Gentry grabbed his crotch for personal arousal and to express a desire for more sexual contact.
Three points here.
One, we had a client involved in a similar situation. I wanted to try the case, but because 1) the other attorney involved thought a jury would convict as soon as they heard the word “homosexual”, and 2) the client was about to move out of state and wanted to end the case asap, the client ended up
paying the extortion pleading guilty and paying a fine. Yesterday’s trial does not change the second reason for the plea, but it undercuts the first. I find this very encouraging:
In a case where the sole defense was that the touching was accidental, Gentry’s lawyer, Bruce Gardner of Huntsville, started things off with a surprise. As he was asking prospective jurors questions to determine their fitness to decide the case, he minced no words.
“My client is admittedly a homosexual, gay man,” Gardner said.
His client, thin and balding, with a beard and moustache going white and a U.S. flag pin on his blazer’s lapel, a red tie falling short of his waistline, stared unsmilingly at the jury as his lawyer spoke.
U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler hit the homosexuality issue head-on as well.
“I understand that mainstream religion considers homosexuality a sin, but it’s also mainstream religious belief, as I understand it, that it’s the act that is a sin, not the person,” Coogler said. “You’re not here to decide whether someone is or is not homosexual.” . . .
After the verdict, Gardner said he introduced the homosexuality issue because he figured the jury would suspect it.
“I thought it was going to be very apparent based on the way my client looked, the way he talked,” Gardner said. “I thought it was better to embrace the facts.”
That’s good lawyering, and way to go jurors for sticking to the facts.
Two, from the news report, it looks like this case was the federal agent’s word against the defendant’s. You don’t need a lawyer to tell you that in ninety nine out of one hundred cases of cop says/defendant says the government wins. So that the government lost this case means the government’s case did not just suck, it really, really, sucked.
Three, I don’t want to see anyone – gay or straight – getting it on in a public place. But, if what my client was doing is any indication of what was going on at Wheeler, I don’t think criminal charges are the answer. Far from intentionally exposing themselves – a requirement for lewdness or indecency – most of these folks were probably looking for some privacy. Maybe someone stumbled upon one of these couples and was offended. But is that reason to call in the feds, arrest people, charge them with crimes, make them pay fines or do time, and then label them “sexual offenders” for the rest of their lives? And after you’ve answered those questions, ask yourself if your answers would be the same had the offenders been a heterosexual couple. To me, this looks like the government taking an eye for a stubbed toe.