Lawyers worry about early release of Tenn. Waltz evidence

The Commercial Appeal has obtained several hours of undercover surveillance video from the FBI's Tennessee Waltz sting. The surveillance is similar to the video first made public last year after the initial indictments.

An attorney for one of the lawmakers charged in the case says releasing too much information right before a trial could contaminate the jury pool.

The video evidence that resulted in the indictment of state Senator John Ford will have been public for more than a year by the time he's judged by a jury of his peers.

"And they'll hear that for a long time before it's ever brought in that courtroom and may make them come to an early decision, which they should not do," said Lorna McClusky, defense attorney for indicted state Senator Kathryn Bowers.

The early release of evidence from the Tennessee Waltz sting isn't likely to compromise its merit in court, but legal experts say it does risk ruining reputations even for those not facing charges.

On Sunday, Tennessee Waltz surveillance video released by The Commercial Appeal features conversations about payoffs given to state Representative Larry Miller. Yet Miller is not seen taking a bribe, has never been indicted and has previously denied accepting any more than a legal campaign contribution.

"There might be some exception to the hearsay rule that would apply based on the facts, but based on what I know, it sounds to me like it would be inadmissable hearsay at least against Larry Miller," said Steve Mulroy, assistant professor of law at the University of Memphis.

McClusky said there's a threat of contaminating the jury pool when the public is privy to evidence prior to a trial.

"The information they get is based on discovery, which is what the government has, which is information they developed during the investigation," she said. "So, it's going to be one-sided."

McClusky said when limited information casts a negative light on the accused, there's no way to unring the bell.