Jurors to resume deliberations Friday in Painter trial

Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter leaves Baton Rouge state court in this February 2011 photo. Show caption
Advocate file photo by BILL FEIG -- Former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter leaves Baton Rouge state court in this February 2011 photo.

The jury in the trial of Murphy J. Painter was sent home at 10:10 p.m. Thursday after about five hours of deliberations failed to produce a verdict.

Jurors were directed to return to federal court at 9:30 a.m. Friday to resume deliberations in the case of Painter, the former state commissioner for Alcohol and Tobacco Control accused of computer fraud and false statements tied to his use of confidential law enforcement databases.

Painter’s indictment alleged 29 counts of computer fraud and false statements to the FBI. He was accused of using confidential law enforcement databases to gather information on people who were not related to any criminal investigation.

The computer fraud charges stemmed from federal rules that say searches of law enforcement databases such as the National Crime Information Center in West Virginia must be for criminal justice purposes.

Final arguments Thursday afternoon were bruising.

Michel S. Fawer, Painter’s lead attorney, told jurors the case against the former ATC commissioner was “absolutely spurious.”

Fawer contended prosecutors revealed no evidence to say Painter “should be summarily branded a felon.”

“It is an embarrassment to our system of justice,” Fawer said of the case against Painter, 60, of Gonzales.

“Go to jail?” Fawer said. “It’s embarrassing.”

Fawer said Painter twice used confidential law enforcement databases to obtain addresses of friends to whom he wished to send sympathy cards.

“Mea culpa,” Fawer told jurors.

Fawer acknowledged Painter used a law enforcement database to get the address of a Texas woman he knew decades earlier and then emailed a birthday greeting to her.

If jurors thought Painter should be convicted for that, “go ahead and do it,” Fawer told them.

Fawer argued federal witnesses failed to prove Painter purposefully entered a criminal case code into a database he used to get information for two men who wanted help in obtaining concealed-weapon permits.

Painter told both men they should not continue their efforts to obtain those permits, Fawer said, adding, “That’s no crime.”

As he did throughout the seven-day trial, Fawer argued that Painter was fired by the Governor’s Office in August 2010 because he refused to grant an alcohol license for Champions Square adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

“You can say to the government, our government, you will not do an injustice in our name,” Fawer concluded.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shubhra Shivpuri told jurors Painter “thought he operated under a different set of rules than everyone else.”

The law enforcement databases exist only for criminal justice purposes, Shivpuri said.

Louisiana State Police officials cited ATC in 2008 for misuse of a federal database and ordered the office to cease using that database to run background checks on alcohol license applicants, Shivpuri said.

Painter told State Police ATC would comply with that directive, then told his agents to disregard it, Shivpuri noted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Patricia Jones added: “The only embarrassment to the criminal justice system in this courtroom is Mr. Painter.”

Jones said the former commissioner “is a black eye to law enforcement in this state.”

The prosecutor said defense suggestions that other ATC employees used Painter’s computer to conduct some of the database inquiries are “ridiculous,” Jones said.

When Painter’s database inquiries were earmarked as relating to criminal investigations, Jones said: “He was telling a lie.”

“The defendant stepped over the line,” Jones told jurors before asking them to find Painter guilty.

Painter would not receive an automatic prison term if he is convicted.

A day after denying a defense motion for dismissal of Painter’s entire indictment, U.S. District Judge James J. Brady changed his mind and threw out three counts of aggravated identity theft. Conviction on one or more of those charges would have triggered a mandatory minimum prison term of two years.

The judge’s announcement took place outside the presence of the jury Thursday morning.

Brady told attorneys for both sides that, after an overnight review of appellate decisions on aggravated identity theft charges, he concluded the law was intended for use in cases involving terroristic situations. The judge said no such situation is alleged in Painter’s indictment.

The aggravated identity theft charges did not allege that Painter stole any money or terrorized anyone. Instead, prosecutors told the judge, it is a felony offense for anyone to obtain, possess or transfer the identity of another person without legal authorization.

Jones asked Brady to withhold his ruling on the aggravated identity theft charges until after the jury renders a verdict. Otherwise, Jones said, prosecutors could never appeal the judge’s decision to dismiss them.

Brady denied Jones’ motion.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Friday, Dec. 20, to correct the time that jurors were to return to court to resume deliberations.