Mistrial declared in Gould mayor’s case

STAR CITY — Judge Rob Wyatt declared a mistrial late Tuesday morning and dismissed a jury of seven women and five men empaneled one day earlier to hear the trial of Gould Mayor Earnest Nash Jr., who faces felony and misdemeanor charges in Lincoln County Circuit Court.

Nash, on trial on one felony count of second-degree forgery, two misdemeanor charges of nonfeasance in office and one misdemeanor count of obstructing governmental operations, said he felt good about Wyatt’s decision and just wanted to return to work.

Before dismissing the jury, Wyatt met in chambers with attorneys for the state and defense, and later told the panel they had received evidence that was improper. The jurist declined to elaborate and to meet with reporters.

Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau declined to comment on Wyatt’s ruling, while defense attorney Gene McKissic of Pine Bluff said information offered by the state was “clearly improper” and were repeated “multiple times.”

Lead defense attorney Hank Bates of Little Rock called the evidence a “Trojan Horse” that Nash’s attorneys were not prepared to answer, noting it had not been provided by prosecutors in advance as required during the “discovery” phase of the criminal case.

While Wyatt told the dismissed jurors that the charges would be tried again, he said it would probably be in 2013. Two women jurors shook their heads as they left the jury box.

The forgery charge stemmed from a checking account Nash established at Pine Bluff’s Simmons First National Bank for a $57,000 grant the city of Gould received from FEMA and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management after flooding in Gould.

Juneau contended the state would offer proof Nash has ignored state law, failed to cooperate with the Gould City Council, utilized federal disaster flood aid to repair vandalism at a city-owned structure and forged the council’s authorization on a document to establish the checking account.

Gould aldermen earlier approved resolutions that only Recorder/ treasurer Pam Barley-Gibson and one alderman could issue checks on city bank accounts. Bates told the jurors there was no evidence Nash profited personally from the Simmons account and was a victim of a “long brewing political dispute.”

David Boast, vice president of operations for Simmons, and Kelly Ward, bank new accounts representative, testified Tuesday that Nash provided the bank with a document indicating he was authorized to open the account and write checks.

Barley-Gibson, who did not testify before the mistrial was declared, maintains Nash has kept her locked out of the recorder/treasurer’s office at City Hall and assaulted her Feb. 21 when she obtained the services of a locksmith at the city council’s direction to open the office.

Nash has been convicted of third-degree battery in the assault involving Barley-Gibson.

Alderman Veronica Tensley testified that Nash routinely vetoes action taken by the council, including ordinances, and locked the aldermen out of City Hall. Tensley told jurors Nash has vetoed Barley-Gibson’s appointment three times.

If convicted of nonfeasance in office, Nash could be barred from holding public office.