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Jon Woods latest appeal: Was a job for his fiancee a bribe or not?

Arkansas News Headlines
Arkansas News Headlines

Former state Sen. Jon Woods’ attorney this week filed his argument with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for a hearing on arguments that he deserves a new trial on his bribery conviction.

In September 2018, Woods was sentenced to 18 years for conviction in a bribery/kickback scheme involving state money. The conviction has been upheld and the district judge denied, without a hearing, a motion for a new trial on Woods’ argument that the jury hadn’t heard evidence that could have been useful to his defense.

John Wesley Hall, in a brief filed this week, appealed that decision. He put it simply when it came to the issue of the hiring of Woods’ future wife by a social services agency, Alternative Opportunities, depicted as a favor in return for $1 million in state money for the agency. Hall said the jury should have been told that Wood’s fiancee,  Christina Mitchell, had been vetted for the job by then-Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who was employed as an attorney for AO, and found qualified.

But Hall said, “in all candor”:

If hiring her is evidence of a bribe, vetted or not, otherwise legal or not, does it legally matter here?

He noted that, in a bribery case against former Judge Mike Maggio, the judge’s reduction of a jury verdict in favor of a nursing home owner was a legal action in itself, but it still was considered part of the bribery scheme. In the Woods case, said Hall:

If it does not legally matter because a bribe is a bribe, then the court should say so. But, if it doesn’t, then we submit there should be a hearing.

Hall said Woods learned after the trial about Hutchinson’s long involvement in the case, including as an FBI informant. He was indicted three times and pleaded guilty to various crimes. Hall commented:

“And, Mr. Hutchinson is still nowhere near sentencing because he apparently is still cooperating. At least that’s the legal inference and it seems to be statewide …. We don’t need to know what else he’s cooperated on, but we’d sure like to know all he knows about this case. The district court had the letter from his counsel, but the full scope of his involvement here is still unknown”

Hall also said Wood deserved a hearing on whether the FBI interfered with Hutchinson’s attorney-client privilege with the services agency. The argument is that the FBI coerced Hutchinson into talking about a conversation with the agency’s lobbyist Rusty Cranford, also now a convicted conspirator, about the deal. If Woods was advised by Hutchinson about something that Hutchinson knew was a crime before it happened, “what about the crime-fraud exception to confidentiality and privilege? What really was Hutchinson’s role in all the GIF [General Improvement Fund] bribery? That’s never mentioned, but even that would require a hearing to resolve factual disputes.”

The government has argued that Hutchinson’s conversations with Cranford shouldn’t have been introduced and wouldn’t have affected the outcome.

The conversation was also not material to the outcome of the case. It did not refute the government’s substantial evidence that Woods’ fiancé was hired in exchange for Woods directing a $1 million GIF grant to AO as demonstrated by the emails between Cranford, Tom Goss, Bontiea Goss and Joe Krueger. Additionally, because at the time of Woods’ trial Hutchinson was represented by counsel and under investigation for multiple bribe schemes, he would have almost certainly invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at Woods’ trial. Without Hutchinson’s testimony the Hutchinson/Cranford conversation was inadmissible hearsay, which could not have affected the outcome of the trial. With Hutchinson’s and Cranford’s pleas of guilty to bribery involving AO, Woods cannot plausibly claim the Hutchinson/Cranford conversation would be exculpatory at a new trial.  



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