Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Biloxi Confidential

Indicted

The case got another boost when U.S. Attorney Phillips assigned it to his top prosecutor, James Tucker. A 22-year veteran of the Justice Department, Tucker had been involved in every major prosecutorial success in Phillips' office in recent years. Doggedly determined to wrap up what was turning out to be one of the longest grand jury investigations in the state's history, he worked as many as twelve hours a day poring over paperwork, computer records, and other files related to the case. His efforts helped tie up many of the loose ends and strengthen the state's case for an indictment.

However, before the grand jury could be presented with an indictment request, they had one more witness to interrogate: Pete Halat. His two and a half hour testimony yielded nothing anyone could use against him or any of the principals involved but it was a necessary step nonetheless. His repeated denials of involvement certainly didn't help the state's case, but they needed to hear from him anyway. In all, 117 witnesses testified before the grand jury over a nearly two-year period.

On May 15, 1991, Cook and Bell drove to Jackson to present their summary of the investigation to the grand jury. Tucker and McDaniel were doubtful at that point whether the case was solid enough to present, but Phillips surprised them by saying he thought it was. Later that day, the grand jury handed down the indictment that was nearly four years in the making.

The charges were one count related to the illegal scam and murder conspiracy, another count of wire fraud, and two counts of traveling across state lines with the intent of committing murder-for-hire. Named in the indictment were Kirksey McCord Nix, Mike Gillich, John Ransom, and LaRa Sharpe. Not named was Pete Halat.

Prosecutors, erring on the side of caution, were leery of linking such a high and, to that point, respected public official to a tawdry case that relied on the shaky testimony of convicted felons. If linked directly with the other defendants and charged with the same crimes, Halat's standing, it was feared, could elicit sympathy from jurors. And, if he were acquitted, that would mean that the others would likely be acquitted as well. He would, however, remain under suspicion as an unindicted conspirator subject to a continuing investigation. He was off the hook for the moment, but could be indicted later on if evidence surfaced that prosecutors felt they could take to trial.

The grand jury indictment, to the surprise of many — especially in the media — revolved more around Hallal's accounts than any other, including those of Bobby Joe Fabian. In fact, Fabian's account was not even referred to in the murder conspiracy charges against the four defendants. Even more surprising was that Margaret's murder was not mentioned at all in the indictment: only that of Vince and the conspiracy that led to it.

Halat, nonetheless, wasted no time trying to clear his name and reputation. On May 21, 1991, the day after the indictment was unsealed, he called a press conference proclaiming his vindication. In his customary pugnacious demeanor when dealing with the media, he lambasted the press for relating "a preposterous and pathetic story" told by a "lying thug." He continued to deny any involvement in Nix's prison scams or in the murders of the Sherrys, whom he continued to refer to as his friends. Halat also announced that he planned to run for reelection in 1993.

Whatever else prosecutors might have had on Halat at that point was kept mum. They would deal with him if and when they felt safe and confident in doing so. One of the main considerations was that they now had Mike Gillich on the ropes. If they could take him out of circulation it would have been considered a major accomplishment.

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