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Sifting 1,000 indictments a year

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
April 25, 2004
Earlier this week, I was typing a list of indictments issued by a Lauderdale County grand jury in April for publication in The Meridian Star. When the newspaper publishes indictments, they're broken down into categories: violent crimes, property crimes and drugs.
And, there are about 1,000 a year which means choices have to be made about what cases to cover in more depth. Or any depth at all.
Violent crime has to top that list.
It's hard to know how to cover the rest, the property crimes and drug cases that make up the overwhelming majority of all indictments issued.
Distorted perspective
Sometimes, as I review the lists, it seems like half the county must be out there selling and buying cocaine, or whatever, breaking into people's houses and businesses, violating parole, forging prescriptions, cooking up methamphetamine, stealing cars and fencing stolen property.
You can't write stories about all of it. Where would you stop?
So, we compromise, pulling out some for stories or commentary, usually those that "spike" interest for some reason. An allegedly dishonest roofer we've already heard about from three or four readers. Something we wrote a "hard news" story about when the original crime occurred. Something that's actually going to trial.
The rest we present in terms of trends and numbers, statistics and percentages, court reports itemizing defendants, their offenses and what sentences they received.
At any rate, I dealt with indictments for violent crimes first, and set aside a few others to check on later.
Quick takes
Doubly indicted: One case interested me because it rang a bell and involved a large number of counts. Howard Danny Mosley was charged with 22 counts of "selling property previously sold or encumbered" in two separate indictments.
What does that mean?
Mosley worked at Quality Motors of Collinsville. The indictments against him allege that he sold cars, trucks and vans to people without telling them that Citizens Bank of Philadelphia had liens on them.
And, it was not the first time he had been indicted for what appear to be the same charges. A year ago, Mosley was indicted for selling 21 cars the same way.
The case almost went to trial, but then Mosley indicated his willingness to plead guilty. His proposed plea agreement noted that a prison sentence of up to three years was possible and called for Mosley to pay more than $260,000 in restitution.
But, when the day came, Mosley changed his mind about pleading guilty which is his right. The trial was set and re-set. And never happened.
Now, he's been indicted again for what appear to be the same charges, plus one new one. Both the old and new indictments are "alive" although I assume the older indictment will be dismissed in favor of the newer one.
Demographics: Over the last few years, the community has welcomed new Hispanic residents in ever-increasing numbers. Wal-Mart SuperCenter has an extensive Mexican cuisine section. Books-A-Million has Harry Potter books in Spanish. Central United Methodist Church has a special outreach ministry for Spanish-speaking residents. And, it's taken awhile, but Hispanic surnames are showing up more and more in the indictment lists.
Convention time: The Lauderdale County Courthouse was pretty deserted after Wednesday. Judges, court administrators, court reporters and the district attorney's staff were attending separate conferences on the coast. They all happen at the same time because it's easier to suspend court for a few days while everybody is out than to work around a staggered convention schedule.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Contact her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail smonk@themeridianstar.com.

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