Luke Lamb has reason to be wary of juries. A candidate for sheriff in Greene County, Illinois (about 60 miles north of St. Louis), he was charged in March with unlawful communication with a juror -- a felony -- after posting a few giddy Facebook comments to a friend who had been selected for jury duty.
Last week, however, it was a jury that saved Lamb's political career. After a two-day trial, twelve jurors unanimously voted not guilty on October 23. That means Lamb can restart his political campaign against the cop who cited him with jury tampering -- current Greene County sheriff, Robert McMillen.
"It felt amazing to be free," says Lamb, who was forced to put his campaign on hold for months while his lawyer fought the felony charge. Now, it's all election, all the time. He's leaving fliers on doors, shaking hands, erecting lawn signs shaped like paper Liberty Bells and delivering speeches from the back of a pickup trucks. He's got a lot of ground to cover before the November 4 election.
"I never thought I'd be happy to march in a parade for two miles in a black suit and sweating my ass off," he says. "I'm trying to fit seven months of campaigning into seven days."
Lamb's trial hinged on a series of Facebook comments he had posted to Mark Boston's wall in January. Lamb was responding to a status update from Boston that read "Yeah, got selected for jury duty."
Lamb first posted "Hell yes!" before suggesting Boston "nullify" or "hang" the jury if necessary. According to an incident report filed January 16, McMillen wrote that Lamb's posts appeared to show intentional jury tampering.
Lamb's jury disagreed, and his lawyer, Patrick Watts, says the two-day trial exposed McMillen's shoddy police work and knowledge of the law.
"The sheriff just prepared the investigation without talking to anyone. He didn't reach out to Boston or Lamb," he says. "The prosecutor's only evidence is a Facebook post, and McMillen admitted the report he'd filed was prepared at a time when he knew that his opponent was Luke Lamb."
A host of problems plagued the prosecution's case, Watts says, because they couldn't prove Lamb specifically intended to influence Boston's decision during the January trial.
Special prosecutor Ed Parkinson, who replaced the regular prosecutor because of Lamb's administrative duties on the Greene County Board, argued that McMillen relied on his 24 years of experience in law enforcement to determine that Lamb's Facebook posts were improper, reported WLDS-WEAI News. During the trial, McMillen testified that he perused the case against Lamb as a matter of law enforcement, not as a political hit.
But the shoddiness of the case should throw suspicion onto McMillen, says Watts. He thinks the U.S. Attorney's Office should take closer look at the sheriff's role in saddling his election opponent with a felony charge. Had Lamb been found guilty, Watts says, he would have lost his seat on the Greene County Board and would never be allowed to run for political office again.
"The sheriff was pushing charges that would destroy his opponent's ability to sit in public office for the rest of his life," he says. "That's scary."
Lamb, however, says he's not planning on suing Greene County. At least, not while he's still running for sheriff.
"It's an option," he says, "but it's not what I want to do to my county. I'm not here to beat McMillen up, and I think that twelve-to-zero not-guilty verdict is good enough. I will spread the message that, if you elect me, I will stop this waste of Greene County time and money."
Daily RFT has reached out to McMillen and the Greene County Sheriff's office, and we'll update if we hear back.