Pollard convicted of timber theft

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
June 10, 2004
When Walter Duncan bought some property out on Oak Grove Drive, one of the things he wanted to do was fill in a low place between his yard and his neighbor's.
The first step was to cut some trees out of the low place, and Duncan hired Robert Pollard and his crew for that job.
Duncan knew his new neighbor, Melwyn Shirley, was particular about her trees because her grandchildren like to play in the yard.
The trees were to be cut on Jan. 8, 2003. Duncan met with the tree-cutters the day before.
In the end, almost all the trees fell. Hers, his, the ones with ribbons, the ones without.
Pollard and his tree-cutters were fired. Duncan hired someone to clean up the mess in his yard, and he had his neighbor's yard cleaned.
Duncan said he saw a fast-growing tree in a catalog somewhere, a variety that is supposed to grow 15 feet a year, but he can't remember the name of it.
Pollard stands trial
Pollard was convicted of timber theft Wednesday in Lauderdale County Circuit Court.
There was some disagreement over how many trees were involved. The defense said seven or eight, the prosecution said it was more like 25. Whichever it was, both sides agreed that their value met the minimum dollar amount of $250.
Defense attorney Chris Falgout didn't dispute that the wrong trees were cut but said it was an honest mistake his client tried to rectify by offering to pay Shirley for the trees.
Shirley did not take Pollard's offer. She got a second opinion of the trees' value and turned him down.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Angero, noting that almost a year and a half has passed since the trees were cut, asked a blunt question: "When?"
Angero also noted that Pollard's contrition did not stop him from loading the timber on a truck and selling it.
Quick takes
Jury instructions: The defense wanted Circuit Judge Robert Bailey to instruct the jury about the difference between civil liability and criminal liability. Falgout's point: He didn't think Pollard should have been indicted for a felony crime. His remarks indicated that, at most, he thought his client had left himself open to a lawsuit. Judge Bailey refused to give the instruction.
Sentencing: Attorneys for both sides were scheduled to meet today to set a date for Pollard's sentencing hearing. Falgout let slip in his closing argument to the jury that Pollard could receive sentence of one to five years. Lawyers aren't supposed to do that because jurors are supposed to focus on the question of guilt or innocence not what might happen to the defendant if they convict.
Deliberations: The jury deliberated for two hours, 30 minutes before reaching a guilty verdict. They sent out two notes to the judge and one request for a grape drink.
A "change of venue": The air-conditioning in the Lauderdale County Courthouse is broken. The weather being what it is, Pollard's trial was held in the U.S. District Courtroom, which is on the second floor of the federal building in downtown Meridian that also houses the post office.

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