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Brendan DeMelle Headshot

Elusive Justice Overdue in the Case of Political Prisoner Paul Minor

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It is time for the Obama Justice Department to reverse one of the most egregiously political persecutions of the Bush era -- Paul Minor's bogus conviction on trumped up charges of public corruption "bribery" despite a total lack of evidence that his role as the top funder of Democratic candidates in Mississippi netted him anything other than misery and a harsh prison sentence.

Attorney General Eric Holder stated recently that "elections have consequences." That premise should apply not just to President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court and appointment of new U.S. Attorneys, as Holder mentioned. It should compel a swift review of the unjust prosecutions of prominent Democrats targeted by the Bush Justice Department.

Paul Minor's case is Exhibit A.

Paul Minor's attorneys recently filed a straightforward, compelling brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals outlining the multiple errors the prosecution made in convicting Minor for bribery despite the government not being required to prove a quid pro quo. In such cases, crystal clear case law requires the presiding judge to instruct the jury that they can only convict a campaign fundraiser of bribing public officials if clear "this for that" evidence exists of a quid pro quo agreement leading to a specific official act by the recipient in exchange for the campaign contributions.

But under Bush, partisan DOJ prosecutors wrongfully prevailed upon a Reagan-appointed judge to withhold that crucial instruction and to allow Minor's conviction without any quid pro quo proof, much less explicit proof of a quid quo pro.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently reviewing Minor's case, heard oral arguments from the government and Minor's legal team on April 1st and later requested further written clarification, which both sides submitted on June 4th. The clarification the Court requested involved whether the government even had jurisdiction to prosecute Minor using one of the federal bribery statutes under which he was convicted. Now that all the legal briefing has been completed for the court, the case is ripe for decision and the court could soon conclude that the government erred in convicting Minor.

The U.S. Attorney's office has repeatedly opposed Minor's release pending the outcome of his appeal, even though he undoubtedly qualifies for mandatory bail pending appeal under the federal bail statute.

Minor has endured a cruel and distressing ordeal since his 2007 conviction, spending the last two years locked up in prison while his wife of four decades battled terminal brain cancer and recently passed away in April. Minor's repeated requests to visit with his dying wife in her final days - and to attend her funeral service where he planned to deliver a eulogy honoring her memory and their 40 years of marriage - were all callously denied by the Bureau of Prisons, despite the black letter law requiring the release on bail pending appeal of anyone, as here, raising such "substantial questions" on appeal. Since it is highly unusual for an appeals court to seek further clarification after hearing oral arguments in a case, Minor obviously cleared the bar by a mile in presenting compelling arguments to the court regarding his botched prosecution.

The court should recognize the folly of the trial judge's improper jury instructions and subsequent misuse of the bribery statutes to convict and sentence Minor to 11 years in the Pensacola federal prison camp.

Nothing will bring his wife Sylvia back, but freeing Paul Minor now and reviewing his case is the least that Attorney General Eric Holder can do - as the Obama administration recently did in the cases of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and other botched Republican prosecutions. It is time to right the wrongs committed by the overzealous, partisan U.S. attorneys who brought shame and disgrace to the Justice Department under George W. Bush.

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