Court of Appeals reverses former Southaven mayor’s criminal conviction

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Greg Davis, right, enters the DeSoto County courthouse in Hernando, Miss., July 10, 2014, with his attorney Steve Farese.

AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Stan Carroll

Greg Davis, right, enters the DeSoto County courthouse in Hernando, July 10, 2014, with his attorney Steve Farese.

Former Southaven mayor Greg Davis cleared a major hurdle for a new trial on embezzlement charges Tuesday after the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed his 2014 conviction.

In an 8-0 vote, the state’s second highest appeals court said DeSoto County Circuit Judge Bobby Chamberlin was wrong to deny Davis’ request to change the trial site in the wake of years of publicity about Davis’ political and personal life, including his 2011 announcement he is gay.

“Sixty-two out of 88 members of the (jury pool) responded affirmatively to having seen publicity relating to Davis,” stated today’s opinion written by Judge David Ishee. “When the jury was impaneled, nine of the 12 jurors plus the two alternates were persons who had stated during voir dire that they had read, seen, or hear something about the case.”

With those numbers, the trial should have been moved out of fairness to Davis, the opinion concurred.

Davis, 50, who was at work when the decision was published, said he is “very pleased and very relieved” by its result. His attorney, Steve Farese Sr. of Ashland, said the Court of Appeals decision was “the right one.”

“You can’t fathom the stress that’s been on my family and friends,” Davis noted. “But we’re not done yet.”

In 2012, a DeSoto County grand jury accused Davis of embezzlement and false pretenses as Southaven mayor. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly $19,000 restitution.

He has been free on bond while the appeals play out.

DeSoto District Attorney John Champion has yet to respond to whether he will appeal today’s decision to the Supreme Court or just move ahead with a new trial.

Davis, a north Mississippi political figure for many years, served in the Mississippi House and ran for U.S. Congress in multiple elections to replace then-Rep. Roger Wicker, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2008.

He is seeking a re-hearing before the Court of Appeals on a late 2015 decision that he must repay certain expenses to Southaven from a civil case brought by the state Auditor’s Office.

In the wake of a very public divorce and Davis’ acknowledgment in 2011 that he is gay, he lost his re-election as mayor.