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Lyons' wife not allowed on visitor list

An attorney for the Rev. Henry J. Lyons says his client won't protest the rule.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 30, 1999


Fallen Baptist leader Henry J. Lyons, serving a 5 1/2-year sentence in a Marion County prison, must abide by a rule that says no one on probation may visit a prisoner.

So Lyons, former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, has been forced to scratch his own wife, Deborah, from his visiting list.

Mrs. Lyons is serving five years' probation for setting fire to the $700,000 Tierra Verde house the St. Petersburg minister bought with former convention employee Bernice Edwards. That fire proved Lyons' eventual undoing, touching off state and federal investigations of him.

Mrs. Lyons, who pleaded guilty to arson in 1997, isn't scheduled to end her probation until October 2002, though it's possible a judge could eventually agree to terminate it early.

Jeff Brown, Lyons' attorney in federal court, said his client isn't going to challenge the rule, though Brown said it is possible the prison system might make exceptions when it comes to an inmate's spouse.

"At this point he doesn't want to rock the boat in any way," Brown said late Thursday. "We don't want to draw attention to him. It's not worth it. We don't want it to look like he's getting special treatment. If other inmates can't get it, he shouldn't. We don't want people to think: Who does he think he is?"

Brown said that decision will help Lyons better interact with other inmates and prison personnel.

In the meantime, Lyons is still able to write to his wife and maintain visitation with his children.

Lyons has been behind bars since March 31, when a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge sentenced him on his state convictions on racketeering and grand theft charges. He is yet to be sentenced on his guilty pleas in federal court to fraud and tax evasion charges.

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