Prosecutors Have a High Bar to Clear in Eversole Case

December 22, 2010

After nearly three years under investigation, Commissioner Jerry Eversole discovered Tuesday that he could not beat the ride — in this case to the federal courthouse where he entered a courtroom in chains and a judge unsealed 31 pages of accusations against him and longtime friend Michael Surface.

But can he beat the rap?

That will depend on whether federal prosecutors can convince a jury that the gifts Surface gave Eversole and the actions the commissioner took that benefited Surface constitute conspiracy and bribery. The burden is on the prosecution to prove what legal observers variously call "a criminal state of mind" or "improper purpose." In other words, that Eversole and Surface made a deal.

The courthouse cliché is, "If you got the dough, you're in the know," said Ryan McConnell, a former federal prosecutor who practices law at Haynes and Boone. Bank records and other documents that trace the exchange of money can be powerful prosecutorial tools.

"In federal court, circumstantial evidence has the same weight as direct evidence," McConnell said.

The years the Department of Justice spent building its case also yielded varying interpretations.

"Federal prosecutors are really cautious about what charges they bring, particularly in the public arena, because you're really going to ruin somebody's life once you file charges," McConnell said.

Article excerpted from the Houston Chronicle.  For full text, click here.

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