Pilot Trial May Go Into March; Court Faces Possibility Of Running Out Of Jurors

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The fraud trial of four former Pilot Travel Centers employees at Federal Court in Chattanooga may run into March, leaving the worry that the court could run out of jurors.

Judge Curtis Collier on Thursday afternoon pointed out that if the jury pool drops below 12 "the case would have to be tried all over."

Prosecutor Trey Hamilton was quick to say, "We don't want that."

The trial of Mark Hazelwood, Scott Wombold, Heather Jones and Karen Mann started in early November, but there was a break of over a month for the holidays.

There were initially four alternates in addition to the panel of 12. However, a female juror did not show up on a Monday morning and it was learned she was off on a week's pleasure trip without notifying the court. That left three alternates.

Judge Collier said it was just learned that one of the jurors has accepted a new job in Knoxville. Ironically, the trial was moved to Chattanooga from Knoxville, Pilot headquarters. She is to move to Knoxville in early February to start the new job.

That would drop the number of alternates to two.

Judge Collier said he wanted to hold court Jan. 20-27, but one of the jurors is asking off for that week. He asked his courtroom deputy to ask that juror if she could put off the time off, but the courtroom deputy did not look hopeful that the juror would be available then.

Attorney Rusty Hardin, of Houston, Tex., said he was going to ask off for Monday, Jan. 22. He said fellow attorney Andy Drumheller lost his home to the Houston flood and is due to move back in that day. He noted that attorney Drumheller has been unable to help on the case this week due to the flu. He said the defense team for Mark Hazelwood needs him back.

On Friday morning, Judge Collier said there will be no court in the case Jan. 20-27.

Prosecutor Hamilton said the state is nearing the end of its proof. He said it could finish in two more days if there were no cross-examination. However, there are lawyers for four defendants cross-examining most witnesses - sometimes extensively.

Among those who have not yet testified are Vincent Greco, a former top Pilot sales director who began working with the FBI and wearing a mic, and John Freeman, a former Pilot vice president of sales who has been mentioned often during the weeks-long trial. Greco was granted immunity. Freeman pleaded guilty.

Attorney Hardin said each defendant may have around five witnesses - for a total of around 20.

It will be Judge Collier who will be sentencing all the defendants in the case, including those who entered guilty pleas earlier.

Authorities said those pleading guilty face up to five years in prison, while those going to trial risk up to 20 years if convicted.

Pilot is paying the cost of the attorneys representing the four defendants who chose not to plead guilty. 


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