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Goal of motion is to dismiss charges

One observer says the move is unlikely to affect the Rev. Henry Lyons' case.


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 29, 1998

TAMPA -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons wants a federal judge to dismiss the 54-count indictment pending against him because of the recent arrest of the Lyons grand jury foreman on drug-dealing charges.

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A motion filed late Friday questioned whether the foreman, Dale T. Marler of Holmes Beach, was able to render impartial jury service in view of his alleged activities.

Lyons, the president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., wants the deliberations of the grand jury to be explored in what would be an unusual public hearing, according to the motion filed by Grady C. Irvin Jr., an attorney for Lyons.

In the motion, Lyons also suggests the government knew of the allegations against the foreman before the indictment was returned on July 2, but still let Marler participate. Lyons stands accused of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy along with two associates, Bernice V. Edwards and Brenda D. Harris.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Federal prosecutors have previously said they moved to suspend the service of the entire grand jury as soon as they learned of the allegations against Marler. They maintain that Marler's arrest had no effect on any indictment.

A prominent defense lawyer said Friday that the chances of Lyons' motion prevailing are "extremely remote." Even if it did succeed, he said, it probably wouldn't matter.

Prosecutors "could simply obtain another indictment very quickly from another grand jury," said John Fitzgibbons, a former federal prosecutor. "The motion, even if successful, delays the inevitable."

The motion was prompted by the news 10 days ago that Marler, the grand jury foreman with a long record of political and civic involvement, had been arrested by Manatee County deputies on charges of dealing marijuana and cocaine.

Marler had worked as an office aide for then-U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles in the 1970s, and more recently as a campaign and travel assistant for statewide political campaigns. He was involved in church and with Little League. Longtime acquaintances are at a loss to explain what might have led to the charges.

At the time of his arrest, according to court records, Marler told Manatee Sheriff Charlie Wells he was dealing drugs in order to pay off loans.

The motion filed by Lyons' attorney Friday also raises questions about the influence Marler might have wielded on his fellow grand jurors. It also says Marler failed to maintain the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.

In addition, the motion alleges that "Mr. Marler might be unable to render impartial jury service as a consequence of his alleged drug-trafficking activity."

Fitzgibbons, the defense attorney, said that the foreman is "first among equals," someone whose vote carries no more weight than anyone else's.

Federal grand juries consist of 16 to 23 people. Twelve must vote to file charges in order for an indictment to be handed up. Even if the foreman is disqualified, Fitzgibbons said, it is likely that at least 12 votes remain in favor of the Lyons indictment.

As for a showing of prejudice against Lyons or any other defendant, Fitzgibbons said it was easier to argue that any grand jury member engaged in criminal activity would have a predisposition against law enforcement, not against a defendant.


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