Victor Hill (right) confers with one of his attorneys, Musa Ghanayem, before his case is called. Former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill faced his arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty. Also, prosecutors argued for a gag order.
Victor Hill (right) enters court preceded by one of his attorneys, Musa Ghanayem (left). Former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill faced his arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty. Also, prosecutors argued for a gag order.
Former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill pleaded not guilty Wednesday to 37 charges that included racketeering and theft by taking. He then argued against attempts to prevent anyone from talking about the case against him.
The special prosecutor on the case, Alcovy Circuit District Attorney Layla Zon, said media coverage -- including Hill's contention that the indictment is politically-motivated -- threatened efforts to ensure a fair trial for prosecutors.
One of Hill's lawyers argued, however, that the U.S. and Georgia constitutions only assure the defendant in a criminal case a fair trial. Attorney Musa Ghanayem said Hill is running for sheriff again this year and needs to be able to respond if the incumbent sheriff uses the indictment in the campaign.
Clayton Superior Court Judge Albert Collier did not rule, saying he needs a few days to read written arguments on the special prosecutor's gag order request.
Hill, who lost his re-election race four years ago, was accused in an indictment returned Jan. 18 of using his elected office and his re-election campaign funds to enrich himself. If convicted of all the charges, the one-time homicide detective and legislator could be sentenced to as much as 530 years in prison.
Zon, the DA in Walton and Newton counties, was brought in to prosecute Hill when Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson stepped aside to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Zon asked that Hill and his lawyers be limited in their public comments to declaring his innocence. She also wanted the gag order to apply to incumbent Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, who defeated Hill four years ago and is running for re-election this year, along with three people who will be called as witnesses against Hill.
One of them, Jonathan Newton, was Hill's spokesman when Hill was sheriff and also allegedly was ordered to write Hill's biography while on county time, according to the indictment. Newton testified before Hill's grand jury and also faces felony charges relating to Hill's case. Another prospective witness, Beatice Powell, also faces criminal charges and is named in Hill's indictment as the Sheriff's Office employee who traveled with him although her days out of the office were treated as paid sick or administrative leave. The third, Naomi Nash, was jailed last September for allegedly refusing to answer grand jury questions about Hill.
Hill is charged with four counts of racketeering, 29 counts of theft by taking, two counts of making a false statement and one count each of violation of oath by a public officer and influencing a witness, allegedly Nash.
According to the indictment, Hill used his county car and county-issued credit card for pleasure trips out of state. The indictment said that he took Powell on some of those trips, but that she did not count her time away from her job as vacation or unpaid leave.
The prosecutor said Hill also assigned Sheriff's Office employees to work on his re-election campaign and on his biography during times they were supposed to be working for the county. According to the indictment, Hill transferred money from his campaign bank accounts to businesses he owned or wrote checks to individuals who would return the money to him.
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