The state has dropped voter fraud charges against six remaining defendants in an Atlantic City case just weeks after the trial of the first six, including Councilman Marty Small, ended in acquittals.
In a letter received by the court and attorneys Tuesday, the prosecutors in the case asked that the indictments against David Callaway, Mark Crumble, Michele Griffin, Demaris Jones, Ramona Stephens and Dameka Cross be dismissed.
Deputy Attorneys General Robert Czepiel Jr. and Anthony Picione also indicated they would honor the plea agreement with Ronald Harris, the co-defendant who pleaded guilty only to have his deal revoked after his bizarre behavior on the witness stand at trial.
Harris was billed as the state's start witness, but his testimony may done more damage to the prosecution. His odd behavior included him dry heaving into a trash can in front of jurors, stopping proceedings for a bathroom break and getting arrested on warrants after a day's testimony.
Small and 13 others were arrested in September 2009 on charges that they mishandled absentee ballots in an attempt to help Small win the 2009 Democratic mayoral primary. Langford won that election. Two pleaded guilty to the charges, while the remaining 12 opted for trial. Six defendants, including Small, were tried first in a case that lasted nearly six months.
"I just thank God that the remaining six co-defendants don't have to go through what we had to go through," Small said Tuesday, after learning of the decision. "Everyone involved can just move forward with their lives and not have this cloud hanging over them."
He credited the work of the first six attorneys for spurring the state's decision to drop the remaining charges.
"The decision the jury made not only impacted the lives of the six co-defendants and attorneys that were on trial, it shows that they impacted the whole case in its entirety," Small said
The deputy attorneys general in the case released a one-sentence statement about the decision through spokesman Peter Aseltine.
"We concluded that this was the appropriate course of action in the interest of justice in light of the verdict in the trial," the statement read.
In the end, the only two people who were guilty of the crime are the two who pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against their former co-defendants. Harris' deal calls for probation with a possible county jail term of as long as 364 days. But public defender Dave Henderson still has a pending motion to withdraw the guilty plea.
Ernest Storr, who pleaded guilty in August to tampering with ballots during campaigns for both Small and former Mayor Scott Evans faces only probation when he is sentenced before Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten on May 13.
"Obviously, (Storr is) happy he didn't have to go back and testify again," attorney Darrin Lord said Tuesday.
Lord declined to comment further on the case.
David Callaway's attorney, James Grimley, said the family is happy to have everyone cleared. Callaway's sister Toni Dixon was one of the six defendants acquitted last month. But the charges remained against her brother, niece Dameka Cross and sister-in-law Ramona Stephens until the March 31 decision by the state to drop the charges.
"I think it was hard for her to enjoy what happened because they're in limbo," Grimley said. "The entire family's just glad this is behind them, so they can move forward."
Callaway - whose brother is former City Council President Craig Callaway - was released from state prison in December after serving nearly a year on a conviction of a scheme to blackmail City Councilman Eugene Robinson with a surreptitiously made sex tape.
"He served his time on the other case," Grimley said. "Now he doesn't have anything weighing on him anymore."
Louis McFadden, who was set to represent Mark Crumble in any upcoming trial, said he wasn't surprised that the charges were dropped.
"For a lot of practical reasons, the selection of the case and the effort to prosecute these people was misplaced," McFadden said. "The state's resources should have been spent doing something more effective."
Small, who was acquitted of similar charges in 2006, wouldn't comment specifically about whether the case should have been prosecuted.
"I have very strong opinions about it but will leave that to Jacobs and Barbone," he said, referring to his attorney's law firm, which he has indicated may file suit against the state.
Contact Lynda Cohen: