Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Biloxi Confidential

The Trial: Part Three — The Defense Counters

As the trial went into its fifth week, the unindicted conspirator the man many felt should have been sitting at the table with the other defendants Pete Halat, took the stand as a witness for the defense. No one on either side of the case expected him to admit to anything that could criminally link him to the defendants, but Halat did nothing to enhance his credibility, either, while on the stand. He became evasive; so much so that he even frustrated defense attorneys trying to engage him in friendly examination. He couldn't recall many details of incidents, including times and places, and often answered questions with questions of his own.

In one of the most heated exchanges of the entire trial, Halat was grilled under cross-examination by Jernigan on the question of whether or not LaRa Sharpe had been hired as an employee of the law firm, then given credentials under notarial oath showing her to be a paralegal. Halat was evasive, but Jernigan persisted, despite objections from the defense. The objections were overruled by Pickering who agreed that Halat had not answered the question. Halat then broke down and admitted that he had lied about LaRa's credentials in order to get her certified to enter Angola for her meetings with Nix.

Halat also made himself look suspect when he told the court he wasn't curious about the source of Nix's money. He maintained that had he known it was coming from illegal activities, he never would have accepted the money. He also denied ever meeting John Ransom or Bill Rhodes.

However, in matters directly related to the Sherry murders, Halat got off easy. The state never asked him about his version of his discovery of Vince's body; how he had told Chuck Leger both Vince and Margaret were dead even though he hadn't seen Margaret's body at that point. He wasn't asked about other conflicting statements he had made, either. Murder wasn't the charge in the case, and prosecutors felt it best not to raise those issues.

After Halat had finished, the defendants took the stand, one by one all except Ransom, though he, too, had been expected to testify. His lawyers wisely decided to keep him off the stand after testimony by LaRa contradicted his earlier statements. She claimed he had delivered a gun with a silencer to her and, in previous statements, he had denied it.

The defendants who did take the stand, Nix, Gillich, and LaRa, maintained their innocence. Nix admitted to running the lonelyhearts scam, but he denied that Gillich and Ransom were involved. LaRa, he added, had left the firm long before the Sherry murders. Gillich, also as expected, denied any role in either the scam or the murders.

LaRa escaped the hardest questioning by the prosecution. She was not asked about her employment at the Halat & Sherry law office or asked to give any details about her duties there. The state seemed more determined to connect her to the receipt of the silenced .22, alleged to be the murder weapon. Despite her denials, the defense was in an awkward position and everyone in the courtroom appeared to know it. Only one person either herself or Ransom could be telling the truth about the gun. Either it changed hands between them or it didn't. There were two different stories from which to choose.


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