The former Wayne County judge who was convicted last year of trying to bribe a federal agent with two cases of Bud Light won a new trial this week.
The ruling entered by U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle in federal court on Thursday comes nearly a month before Arnold Ogden Jones II was scheduled to be sentenced.
Jones, a judge for eight years who lost his bid for re-election in November, was convicted in October of three felonies – paying a bribe to a public official, promising and paying a gratuity to a public official, and corruptly attempting to influence an official proceeding.
The defense team immediately set to have the verdict vacated and a new trial ordered.
U.S. District Judge James C. Fox presided over the trial. Since then, the case has been reassigned to Boyle.
Boyle’s order does not offer details on why he granted a new trial.
Jones was accused in 2015 of texting a Wayne County deputy, who also is a member of an FBI gang task force, to get copies of text messages that were exchanged between two other numbers.
Jones, according to court documents in the case, wanted the texts because he questioned his wife’s fidelity to him and wanted to review exchanges between her phone and the man with whom he suspected her to be involved.
The FBI can obtain such records only with a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge based on suspicion of criminal activity.
The defense contended that Jones was never told by Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Miller that what the judge had asked for would require a search warrant. Instead, the defense has said, the deputy proceeded with an operation that led to the judge agreeing to give Miller $100 instead of the beer and a “SWAT-team-like raid” at the judge’s Wayne County home in November 2015. Jones was arrested at gunpoint, driven to Raleigh and led into a federal courtroom in shackles for his first hearing in the criminal case.
Jones, a registered Democrat, was the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission chairman at the time of his arrest, and the defense team has contended he was led along by the deputy, in part, because of Jones’ position on the commission that helps free inmates wrongfully convicted of crimes.
At the trial in October, the defense team had hoped to raise questions not only about Miller’s actions related to the Jones case, but also in previous incidents that have led to what they described as “a long internal rap sheet” of misconduct allegations while on the beat.
Miller was one of two officers mentioned in a 2011 complaint from a Goldsboro man who said the deputy and another officer strip-searched him after a traffic stop on U.S. 70 for speeding.
Miller also has been named in a civil lawsuit in which Wayne County deputies have been accused of using excessive force in executing a search warrant that left a civilian dead.
Jones, according to the defense documents, was the judge who found those search warrants illegal, information that prosecutors have argued was not pertinent to the bribery allegations.
In one of several court documents seeking a new trial, Jones’ attorneys contended that the former judge was deprived of his right to confront witnesses and challenge the government’s proof because he was prohibited from cross-examining Miller “on his bias and motives.”
“Due to these restrictions on cross-examination, the jury was left with the impression that Deputy Miller had no bias against Mr. Jones nor any motive to ensure that Mr. Jones was charged with offenses,” the defense team’s documents state.
If the jury “had been exposed to the true facts,” the defense continued, “it likely would have inferred the opposite – …. that Deputy Miller had numerous, substantial reasons to attempt to skew the investigation to ensure that it resulted in charges being brought against Mr. Jones.”
Federal prosecutors have opposed the request for a new trial.
Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1