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Lyons set to plead innocent in person

Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2006

LARGO -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons will appear in person at his arraignment on Monday to plead innocent to charges of racketeering and grand theft.

During an emergency hearing Friday afternoon, Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Susan F. Schaeffer changed the time of the arraignment by five hours to accommodate travel plans of F. Lee Bailey, one of four defense attorneys for the Baptist leader.

Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., is accused of skimming millions of dollars from corporations that had marketing deals with the convention.

Bernice Edwards, Lyons' co-defendant and a former convention employee, is expected to attend the 8:30 a.m. hearing on Monday with Bill Jung, a lawyer from Tampa.

Jung, a former federal prosecutor, said Friday he was discussing with Edwards whether he will represent her throughout the case.

As a matter of routine, most arraignments don't require a court hearing. The defense lawyer usually files a plea in writing.

By appearing in person before television cameras, Lyons and Edwards have an opportunity to try to shape public opinion by firmly pronouncing their innocence.

Bob Lewis, an assistant state attorney, suggested Friday that Lyons wants a hearing to say he is "100 percent not guilty," the words O.J. Simpson used after he was charged with the deaths of his wife and her acquaintance.

Anthony Battaglia, another Lyons attorney, said his client is merely exercising his legal rights.

"He feels that this is the type of court appearance he should be present for, and that's something he has a right to be present for," Battaglia said. "He's coming out here to plead not guilty to each and every count."

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