By News Staff
Atmore News publisher and co-owner Sherry Digmon and reporter Don Fletcher, both arrested October 27 and charged with revealing grand jury secrets, will get their first day in court next Monday, December 4.
The local journalists, each free under a $10,000 surety bond, are scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. before retired Autauga County Circuit Judge Ben Fuller.
The retired jurist was selected by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker to hear the case after District Judge Eric Coale and Circuit Judges Jeff White and Todd Stearns recused themselves. White, Stearns and Coale are all former Assistant District Attorneys who worked under DA Steve Billy who brought the charges against the two.
Brewton attorney Earnest Ray White is defending both Digmon and Fletcher against the charge. He said the DA might or might not decide to put on any witnesses during the preliminary hearing, depending upon the solidity of the state’s case.
Even if the case is dismissed, he said, it could still be taken to a grand jury, since there has been no indictment to date.
“The state doesn’t have to call witnesses, but if they don’t, the charges will be dismissed,” said White. “But they can always carry them back to a grand jury because these charges have not been to the grand jury yet. I don’t know what their intent is.”
He added that he also might or might not call witnesses during the hearing, although he adamantly asserted that neither of his clients would take the stand.
“We can call witnesses if we want to, so we may or may not call witnesses, but neither Ms. Digmon nor Mr. Fletcher will be put on the (witness) stand.”
According to Alabama Criminal Code Section 12-16-225, if either or both are found guilty of revealing grand jury secrets, Digmon and Fletcher face a minimum imprisonment of one year and a maximum of three years each. Each also could be fined up to $5,000, or they could be fined and sentenced to prison.
White said the case could be dismissed if the state doesn’t present enough evidence to go forward with the case.
“In my opinion, even if they don’t present evidence to create probable cause that a crime was committed and that (either of) you did it, it would be dismissed,” he said, adding that he would file a motion formally asking that the case be dismissed.