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Lyons' federal trial may start in fall


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 8, 1998

TAMPA -- U.S. District Court Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. indicated Friday that the Rev. Henry J. Lyons may go to trial on federal charges as early as this fall.

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Grady Irvin Jr., an attorney for the Baptist leader, asked Adams to set the trial for next spring, after Lyons' January trial date on separate state racketeering and grand theft charges in Pinellas Circuit Court.

Lawyers estimated Lyons' federal trial will take seven weeks, and Irvin said it would be difficult to prepare for both trials at once.

But Adams said he is considering streamlining the federal case against Lyons in order to move the case along rapidly. One way to do that, he said, would be to separate the least complicated charges from the 54 counts Lyons faces and take those counts to trial first.

Adams said he wants to "cut this case down to a manageable" size, and he balked at the notion of a seven-week trial.

Federal prosecutors objected to a spring trial date, saying the government has an interest in resolving the charges quickly. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Kunz accused Irvin of "dragging his shoes" in preparing to defend Lyons. He said Irvin has yet to collect all the prosecution evidence in the state case, even though it has been available since March.

Outside of court, Irvin accused federal prosecutors of rushing the case to trial before Lyons' defense has a chance to prepare. Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., was indicted on the federal charges in July. He, along with two of his aides, Bernice Edwards and Brenda Harris, were accused of a broad range of crimes, from bank fraud to money laundering.

Adams will revisit the question of when to schedule the federal trial during a hearing Sept. 11.

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