High court reinstates counts against former West Helena aldermen - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

High court reinstates counts against former West Helena aldermen

LITTLE ROCK (AP) - Arkansas' highest court on today overturned a judge's decision to dismiss theft charges against the mayor and five aldermen of the former city of West Helena.

In a series of seven unanimous decisions, justices ruled that Circuit Judge L.T. Simes II was wrong to toss out the theft charges and ordered new hearings. Simes dismissed the charges last year, faulting prosecutor Fletcher Long for not properly documenting the charges and not having a judge sign arrest warrants.

The charges came after the six allegedly paid themselves salaries and bonuses for time after West Helena was merged with Helena on Jan. 1, 2006.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah wrote today that an invalid arrest does not entitle a defendant to be discharged from responsibility to the offense.

The court also overturned Simes' decision to dismiss charges against former West Helena City Clerk Renee Whitfield. Each of the high court's seven justices wrote an opinion on the dismissals.

When the officials were charged in March 2006, Long said former West Helena Mayor Johnny Weaver cashed two checks, one for 15,248 dollars and a second for 5,541 dollars.

Five former aldermen each allegedly cashed two checks - one for 3,300 dollars, as their salary for 2006, and another for 3,000 dollars as incentive pay. Those charged were former aldermen Clarence Richardson, Nathan Ashwood, Calvin Holden, Edward Joshaway, and Eddie Lee.

Simes dismissed the felony theft counts in a 14-page order that said there was a lack of probable cause that felonies had been committed.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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