07/11/2005

Federal trial set to open for men accused of slaying of Ga. sheriff

By ERRIN HAINES
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA- Three years ago, former sheriff's deputy Melvin Walker and David Ramsey walked out of a DeKalb County courthouse as free men, a jury unwilling to convict them of murder in the shooting of Sheriff-Elect Derwin Brown.

Federal prosecutors are trying to succeed where DeKalb County failed.

Walker and Ramsey were to appear Monday in a federal courthouse in Atlanta to face charges in Brown's 2000 death. Much of the same evidence was expected to be used this time.

Still, with more charges, more witnesses, more documents and a different jury pool that is likely aware of defeated DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey's high-profile conviction for arranging Brown's murder, defense attorneys realize this is a different trial.

"In the end, I hope we can celebrate this the same way, but we've still got to go through this trial," said Mark Issa, co-counsel for Melvin Walker.

Walker and Ramsey face a dozen charges including conspiracy to violate the federal murder-for-hire statute, firearms crimes, and using interstate facilities to kill Brown on the orders of Dorsey, whom Brown defeated in a primary runoff four months before. The interstate charges relate to allegations that the men used cellular phones to plot the killing.

Brown was killed in front of his home on Dec. 15, 2000 - three days before he was to have been sworn in as sheriff. Walker and Ramsey were acquitted in March 2002, but Dorsey was convicted in a separate trial four months later and is serving a life prison sentence.

Phyllis Brown, the sheriff-elect's widow, also lost a civil lawsuit against DeKalb County in 2003. She was seeking up to $50 million in damages, claiming the county was responsible for her husband's death because of Dorsey's involvement and the men who committed the crime received county paychecks.

Dorsey remains the only defendant convicted in Brown's murder. Accused co-conspirators Patrick Cuffy and Paul Skyers testified against Walker in state court under an immunity deal and are expected to testify again in the federal trial.

Attorney J. Tom Morgan, who prosecuted the Brown murder case as DeKalb County District Attorney, said the federal case will hinge on whether the jury believes Cuffy and Skyers, and that Walker and Ramsey would participate in such a scheme.

"Our jury had a hard time believing that their motivation - loyalty to Dorsey - would lead them to commit murder," Morgan said. "Some people on the jury had their minds made up before we even started."

Federal prosecutors will argue that Walker, the suspected triggerman, was promised a promotion to deputy sheriff if he helped kill Brown. Ramsey, the alleged backup shooter, was promised a job as a detention officer. The two men, along with two co-conspirators, conducted surveillance on Brown's home for four months before killing him, the indictment said.

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