Jury selection in E. J. Melvin trial underway

E. J. Melvin enters federal court
E. J. Melvin enters federal court

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys spent several hours Thursday, sorting through a 113 person jury pool to find the final jurors who will decide 48 charges against former Lee County sheriff, Edgar Jerome Melvin.

Jury selection started at 9:30 a.m. inside the federal courthouse in Columbia. Court clerks sent state wide summons to potential jurors weeks ago to decide the trial that could last two weeks.

US Assistant Attorney, Mark Moore and Melvin's defense team spent about an hour Thursday, going over a list of 20 questions US District Judge, Cameron Currie will ask potential jurors. Those questions dealt with inquiries from whether a juror has heard of the case through the media, to questions about whether they'd ever been involved in a traffic stop in Lee County.

Prosecutors expect their part of the trial to last up to six days, according to Moore. Prosecutors said Thursday that up to 70 percent of their case involves "kick backs from drug dealers." "That is the crux of this case," Moore told Currie.

Melvin's defense team plans to call more than 60 witnesses. When Currie questioned Melvin's attorney, Jack Swerling about his witness list, Swerling told the judge, "I was being overly cautious." Swerling's office started gathering character witnesses in the case in September, according to sources inside Lee County, contacted by Swirling's private investigator.

Melvin is the last person out of 14 people arrested in the case to take his case to a jury. Thirteen co-defendants have pleaded guilty, and all have agreed to testify against Melvin.

Chris Peeples, the 14th person arrested in the case, pleaded guilty to a lesser conspiracy charge and a chance at a reduced sentence. Peeples has a prior drug conviction, which would have sent him to federal prison with a mandatory minimum of 20 years to a maximum of life, if convicted. His testimony and full cooperation with prosecutors would likely reduce his sentence. Peeples was Melvin's barber, and operated his business only feet away from the sheriff's office.

Prosecutors filed subpoenas announcing their plans to call of Melvin's "Bagman" Larry Williams to testify against the two-term sheriff. The subpoenas filed so far also name five other co-defendants prosecutors plan to call against Melvin. Those government witnesses include: Anthony Williams, Peeples, Roshell Brown, Eric Hickmon, and Lucius Delane.

State and federal agents arrested Melvin at a Sumter woman's home May 1. Over the next three months, a total of 13 co-defendants would face conspiracy charges. Since July, Brenda LaShawn Ellerby, Larry Williams, Anthony Lee Williams, Lucius Anthony Delane, Antonio Holloman, Eric Hickmon, Sheldon Maurice Bradley, Kari Apfelbeck, Boyd Sweetenburg, Terry Gunsauley, Susan Morris, and Roshell Brown all pleaded guilty. After their arrests, each gave prosecutors sworn confessions to their roles and agreed to testify against the former two-term sheriff in exchange for reduced sentences.

Melvin faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in federal prison, if convicted. Melvin's trial is set to begin Monday.

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