NEW ALBANY – A subdued Jerry Kennamore quietly pleaded guilty to one count of forgery Friday, likely ending the investigation into possible vote fraud in New Albany city elections.
Kennamore, who has twice served as alderman and was making his third run for mayor this year, was charged with forging the name of his daughter as an attesting witness on an absentee ballot during the May 5 Democratic primary.
As a candidate for mayor, he could not use his own name as witness.
Kennamore was sentenced to five years’ unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine plus court costs and assessments.
He also agreed to never seek political office again or have anything to do with absentee or affidavit voting ballots, other than voting himself.
Circuit Court Judge Andrew Howorth told Kennamore that if he abides by the rules of the probation, at the end of five years his record will be cleared.
Kennamore’s guilty plea is essentially being held in abeyance during that time; if he violates the probation, the court will accept the guilty plea and may enforce a prison sentence or other punishment.
Kennamore has been accused of other counts of forgery as well as vote fraud, and District Attorney Ben Creekmore said those can be brought up against Kennamore beyond the five-year period if he violates any law.
The defendant pleaded guilty to a criminal information, which bypasses the grand jury process and usually brings a much quicker resolution to a case.
Kennamore will not have to report to the Mississippi Department of Corrections during his probation but must pay the fine and assessments by the end of the five years.
Kennamore, with his attorney, Michael McHenry of Tupelo, made no statement during the hearing, only answering the judge’s questions.
Howorth said the court accepted the state’s recommendation for sentencing with “no expectation that Mr. Kennamore will get into … trouble” again in the future.
The plea and agreement Friday will leave incumbent Tim Kent as mayor of New Albany. Kent had narrowly defeated challenger Betsey Hamilton in the Democratic primary and runoff and was to face Kennamore, running as an independent, in Tuesday’s general election.
“We need to remove the cloud that is over the election today,” the judge said. “The charge is forgery but what we’re really talking about is the election process. The local election is the foundation of democracy; any taint on the local level is a taint on democracy.”
Creekmore said the investigation into possible vote fraud involved only Jerry Kennamore and he expected no more charges to be filed.
He added that the 53 ballots sealed for the attorney general’s and secretary of state’s investigations will remain sealed unless there is some legal action by one of the candidates. He said he is not aware of any such intention, although that would be more likely to go through the city attorney’s office.
“It was very important to be able to investigate this during the process,” Creekmore said, “and not have to go back later.”
The investigation came after a resident complaint about Kennamore, and the gathering of video and audio evidence concerning the forgery with the help of an absentee voter.
Since state law requires a 10-day minimum period before an election in order to remove the name of a candidate, Kennamore’s name will still be on the Tuesday ballot. He has sent a letter to City Clerk Anne Neal stating his intention to withdraw and refusal to serve if elected, however, and notices to that effect will be posted at the polling place.
That will not preclude anyone’s voting for Kennamore but such votes will effectively be lost.
Lynn West / New Albany News-Exchange