DeLaughter declines to rule on Hosemann’s motion

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 25, 2002

Warren County Judge Gerald Hosemann, right, passes by Hinds County Deputy Tony Queen and Juanita “Nita” Johnston as she speaks to media following a hearing at the Hinds County Courthouse in Raymond Friday. Walking out behind Hosemann are his sisters, Mary Halford, second from left, and Doris Davidson.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[03/25/02]RAYMOND Saying that any ruling may taint grand jurors’ views of the case, Hinds County Judge Bobby DeLaughter declined Friday to rule on Gerald Hosemann’s motion to have aggravated assault charges against him dropped.

“Let the proverbial chips fall where they may,” DeLaughter said. “It’s time for the grand jury to at least have one chance to examine the case.”

Evidence in the case that charges Hosemann with assaulting his former court reporter, Juanita “Nita” Johnston, and leaving her on ranch property he owns in Hinds County will be presented before a grand jury convening April 15.

In heated debate Friday at the Hinds County Courthouse in Raymond, DeLaughter also refused requests from Hosemann and his attorney, William Kirksey, to allow Johnston to take the stand.

Johnston, who in December blamed Hosemann for the assault, this month recanted her accusations and has said repeatedly that the judge had nothing to do with the injuries she received between Dec. 4 and Dec. 6.

“Is the state of Mississippi afraid of the truth?” Hosemann asked, speaking to the court against the advice of Kirksey.

“I want the press to know what’s going on here,” said Hosemann, a county court and youth judge in Warren County since 1986.

Judge Hosemann, you chose to make a statement to me,” DeLaughter said.

“The way this case is proceeding, the truth may never be found out,” Hosemann said.

“The state charged me with a crime that never existed,” Hosemann said. That’s when he asked that Johnston, 48, be allowed to speak in court.

Kirksey made the same request. “We have been drug through the mud,” Kirksey said.

“I am in charge of this courtroom, not you,” DeLaughter told Kirksey, after repeated attempts to quiet him. “You will, as your client will, observe proper decorum in this courtroom.

“Is there anything else we need to take up, yes or no? If no, then sit down,” DeLaughter said.

The defense contended that, because of Johnston’s recent statements, charges against Hosemann should be dismissed.

Kirksey said that even if there was probable cause to charge Hosemann in December, that probable cause no longer exists.

DeLaughter disagreed. “That is exactly what the grand jury is to determine,” he said.

Assistant Hinds County District Attorney Robert Taylor told the court the state will be ready to present evidence to the grand jury against Hosemann.

“It’s not that there may be, there is other evidence,” Taylor said.

“The state is going to find out what is at the bottom of (Johnston’s) recantment,” Taylor said. “Are there other explanations for her recantment?”

DeLaughter, in not allowing Johnston to take the stand, said that there was no legal precedent for a preliminary hearing before the grand jury addresses the case. But if the grand jury returns a no bill not indicting the defendant then DeLaughter said Hosemann could request a hearing to determine if charges should be dropped.

Hosemann, 50, was arrested by the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department Dec. 28 and charged with aggravated assault. A Dec. 27 affidavit signed by Investigator Pamela Turner says Johnston described how and why Hosemann beat her. Hosemann was released Dec. 29 on $25,000 bond.

Johnston, his former court reporter, was found Dec. 6 on land Hosemann owns.

In a sworn statement, Johnston named Hosemann as her attacker. On March 7, Johnston recanted in a signed letter, and since has repeatedly said that he did not harm her.

Johnston said Friday that she was not surprised by DeLaughter’s decision. “No crime has been committed,” she said.

“Do I look angry? Then I’m surprised,” Kirksey said, addressing the media from the courthouse steps.

Kirksey said he would never comment on a seated judge. “Am I disappointed in my old friend Bobby DeLaughter? Yes,” he said.

Friday’s proceedings capped a week of developments in the case.

On Monday, Hosemann appeared in court after he made widely reported comments about DeLaughter, Hinds County investigators and the prosecuting attorneys.

Citing his gag order on the case, DeLaughter lectured Hosemann, who apologized. DeLaughter then agreed to Friday’s hearing for a motion to dismiss charges.

On Tuesday, Hosemann announced he would retire from the bench effective March 31, because he was forced to cancel cases in his own courtroom due to pending charges.

And on the same day, Vicksburg attorney Paul Kelly Loyacono asked to be removed from a civil case in which he represented Johnston against Hosemann. Loyacono’s request came after he said he could not in good conscience drop the lawsuit based on reasons his client gave him.

On Wednesday, Judge John Kitchens allowed Loyacono to withdraw, and a Hinds County prosecutor said the aggravated assault charges against Hosemann will still be presented to a grand jury despite Johnston’s repeated claims that he did not harm her.

Two Vicksburg attorneys, Robert C. Arledge, 44, and Johnny Price, 55, have said they would seek election to Hosemann’s post in the November election. Both said their decisions had nothing to do with the charges pending against Hosemann.