KENTUCKY — A jury recommended a one-year sentence in late February for a newspaper publisher convicted of using a car-dealer’s tag to avoid paying taxes. The publisher had previously faced a five-year sentence.
Bob Harrell, publisher of Tell It Like It Is in Murray, Ky., told the Associated Press he will appeal the recommended sentence, even though it was the lightest sentence allowed by law. He claims the sentence is part of a judicial and political conspiracy to silence his publication, which he says caters to “God-fearing people who distrust the government and courts.”
Last year, the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld Harrell’s 1991 conviction for using a car dealer’s tag to avoid paying a tax, but it struck down a five-year sentence as excessive and ordered the trial court to reconsider the sentence. The Calloway County Circuit Court jury in Murray, Ky., deliberated about 20 minutes in late February before recommending the new sentence, the AP reported.
Circuit Judge David Buckingham said he would probably put Harrell on probation at the publisher’s sentencing in mid-March. Buckingham allowed Harrell to remain free on bond pending sentencing.
“This is not a serious crime. It is not a crime [he] will go to the penitentiary for,” the AP quoted Buckingham as saying.
Jury foreman Judith Lamb said that the jurors hoped the 59-year-old Henderson man would not go to jail.
“We were all in agreement that he was not a threat to society, like a hard criminal would be,” Lamb told the AP.
Harrell, who represented himself at the new sentencing hearing, estimated that he still owes nearly $30,000 in legal fees in the case, which centers on avoiding a $30 tax bill on a 1980 Mercury. Although Harrell was offered a plea bargain before the original trial that would have put him on probation, Harrell said he did not plead guilty because he had not done anything wrong. “The issue is not the dealer tag,” he told the AP, “It’s my newspaper.”
In returning the case for a new sentence, the appeals court said prosecutor Mike Ward improperly inflamed the jury to return an unusually harsh sentence. The court said Ward had become personally involved in the case apparently because he was the subject of unflattering articles in Harrell’s newspaper. Harrell’s paper has accused Ward of covering up murders and fostering corruption. Ward dismisses the charges as ludicrous. The court also criticized Buckingham for letting the five-year sentence stand.
Ward said almost nothing during the sentencing proceeding and did not make an opening or closing argument. “I wanted a low profile,” he told the AP.
(Commonwealth v. Harrell)
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