The Trial: Part One — The Prosecution Leads
The prosecution's strategy was to focus heavily on the scams, the area in which they had the most evidence and felt they could make their strongest case. They were counting on jurors being sympathetic to victims of the scam and awarding convictions on at least one of the charges; enough to win a partial victory, which would have been preferable to an acquittal on all the counts.
To back their fraud charges, the prosecution had a paper trail that could have stretched from Angola to Biloxi. They had a mountain of phone records, bank documents, depositions from scam victims, and more. But, to further buttress their case, they called to stand some of the victims who told their stories about being misled and conned out of thousands of dollars. Other witnesses told the court they were couriers for the ill-gotten scam money, carrying it between Angola and other places to Biloxi where, in most cases, it was handled by LaRa Sharpe in the offices of the Halat & Sherry law firm.
But, despite all the evidence gathered along the paper trail, it didn't help the prosecution's case when some of the witnesses started diverging from their testimony to the grand jury. On one of those occasions, Judge Pickering had to send the jury out of the room so he could admonish a witness, Arthur Mitchell, reminding him of what he told the grand jury and warning him of the consequences of perjury. The warning worked. Mitchell, an inmate who had worked the scam with Nix, returned to his original version and verified that he heard Nix raging about the missing money that had been entrusted to Halat & Sherry; about $200,000, according to Mitchell's recollection.
The government's strategy appeared to be working. By establishing that the scam was bringing in large sums of money and that large sums of it had turned up missing, they established a motive for the conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. They were also — deliberately — building a link to Halat that could possibly, in the foreseeable future, lead to an indictment against him.
Shortly after Mitchell's testimony, a scare was thrown into the next series of witnesses for the prosecution. Roy Garland, another one of Nix's bag men, was blasted in the face with a shotgun the day before he was slated to testify. Initially it was feared that it had been another Dixie Mafia hit to try to prevent from testifying. However, it was quickly learned that the shooting was the result of a domestic dispute: Garland had been caught sleeping with someone else's wife. He survived but remained hospitalized in guarded condition, and he was dropped from the witness list. His testimony was not felt to be as important as that of the next witness, Nix's wife-by-phone, Kellye Dawn Nix.