Vote-buying defendants guilty

Guilty on all counts.

That was the jury’s verdict Friday afternoon in the trial of three Caldwell County men accused of conspiring to buy votes in the 2002 general election.

The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours before returning its verdict in Statesville. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Voorhees said it may take a couple of months before the court sentences Wayne Shatley, Carlos “Sunshine” Hood and Ross “Toogie” Banner.

According to Suellen Pierce, spokesperson the U.S. Attorney – Western District of North Carolina, Shatley could receive as many as 20 years in prison, Hood – 10 years imprisonment and Banner – 15 years.

The defendants were named in a nine-count federal indictment. Count One alleges that all three defendants along with Anita and Valerie Moore conspired to pay voters to vote and to register in the 2002 general election. The purpose of the conspiracy was to secure the election of the Republican Party’s nominees and party’s nominee for Caldwell County sheriff, Gary Clark.

Shatley, Hood and Banner were found guilty of Count One. Anita and Valerie Moore pled guilty to Count One earlier in the year and were witnesses for the prosecution in the four-day trial in U.S. District Court.

The testimony of the Moore sisters on Wednesday pointed at Shatley as financing and leading the criminal conspiracy.

Shatley was found guilty of Counts Two, Four and Seven. Count Two alleges that Shatley and Anita Moore offered to pay Latoya Craig to vote. In Count Four, Shatley and Anita Moore were accused of paying Donna Lynn Harshaw to vote. Count Seven alleges that Shatley, Anita Moore and Hood aided and abetted one another to pay Charles Harbison to vote.

Hood was also found guilty of Count Seven.

Banner was the defendant named in counts eight and nine. He was accused of paying Barbara Banner to vote in Count Eight. Count Nine states that Banner paid Herman “Pete” Michaux to vote.

According to testimony of the numerous witnesses who said they were paid to vote or to register to vote, voters were paid $25 to vote for Clark or a straight Republican ticket and $10 to register to vote.

At the conclusion of the trial, the defendants were not taken into custody and were allowed to leave. All three are currently free on $25,000 bond. Prosecutor Josh Howard motioned for Voorhees to revoke Shatley’s bond because the investigation into the conspiracy revealed that Shatley was a danger to society and a flight risk. But Voorhees denied the motion.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Matthew Martens reminded the jury that 16 persons had testified under oath that the trio along with the Moore sisters had bought or had attempted to buy their votes.

In the closing arguments of the three defense attorneys, they attacked the credibility of the witnesses, many of whom had criminal records. They said that the bank and phone records submitted by the prosecution did not substantiate the trio’s involvement in a criminal conspiracy. They were especially critical of the testimony of the Moore sisters.

It was noted that Anita Moore admitted to lying to under oath at the Caldwell County Board of Elections in December 2002 by denying her involvement in the conspiracy. It was also stated that it is up to the sole discretion of the prosecutors in the case to grant the sisters, who have not been sentenced yet, a reduction in their sentences. It was implied that they may have lied on the stand to please prosecutors.

“Their testimony was bought and paid for,” stated Banner’s attorney, Andrew Jennings.

Shatley’s attorney, Steven Brackett, stated that prosecutors coerced Anita Moore to pleading guilty. “She sold her soul and pled guilty to something she didn’t do. She folded up. Anita Moore was scared,” he told the jury.

Banner’s attorney, Victoria Jayne, said that Anita Moore was “the very definition of a lack of credibility.”

The defense attorneys all stated that the investigation was politically motivated. It was noted that the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation was first notified of the vote buying conspiracy by former Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office detective Eddie Taylor. Taylor lost his job when Clark was sworn into office after defeating former Caldwell County Sheriff Roger Hutchings in the election.

“Terror struck in the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department. They had to dirty up the 2002 election,” Brackett told the jury.

While it was noted in trial that Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office investigators under Hutchings’ administration had video taped the vote buying activity, the video tape was not shown to the jury. The jury was reminded of this fact during the defense attorneys’ closing arguments.

“Why wasn’t the video tape shown? It’s because it doesn’t show the facts that the government wants you to see,” Jennings told the jury.

All of the defendants declined to comment on verdict. Brackett said he was disappointed with the outcome of the trial. “The important thing now is the sentencing,” he said.

Of the prosecution’s victory, Martens said, “We are pleased that justice was done.”

Fifteen people testified before the Caldwell County elections board in December 2002 that they sold their votes to a handful of people working at Caldwell County Republican headquarters in the days before the election.

Information presented at the hearing also implied that up to 250 voters sought to sell their votes. The lawyers for the Republican Party’s candidates claim only a handful of votes may have been changed. No one has linked either the GOP’s candidates or the Republican Party to the vote-buying.

In the 2002 general election, Clark won the sheriff’s race by 746 votes. Clark received 11,588 votes and former Sheriff Roger Hutchings, a Democrat, received 10,842 votes. Republicans Tim Sanders and Alden Starnes also defeated Democrat Bill Wall in the race for two seats on the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners.

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