ABERDEEN – Oxford FBI agent Hal Neilson’s family and friends shrieked with joy as a federal jury said “not guilty” twice Saturday afternoon.
Moments later, they gathered in a witness room in a circle of prayer where many of them wept as defense attorney Ronald Michael of Booneville gave thanks for the result of a grueling 10-day trial.
Neilson, 49, and just six weeks away from retirement, faced up to 25 years in prison, a $1.25 million fine and the loss of his pension if the jury’s decision had gone the other way.
In the end, its 12 members could not agree unanimously on three other counts against him, and U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock declared mistrials.
Prosecutors reportedly have 30 days to decide if they will re-try those counts, but it wasn’t known immediately what they will do.
Neilson was indicted Jan. 13 on five counts that he intentionally lied or substantially participated in acts for his own financial interests related to the Oxford FBI building, where he worked at 2109 University Ave. Camp&G Properties LLC owns the building, and Neilson became a one-third member in October 2005.
Neilson, an attorney who joined the FBI in 1992, was the defense’s crucial witness and spent six hours on the stand Wednesday. He insisted he was not part of Camp&G before the FBI leased the building, that he had permission to do so and that a $50,000 check he received from Camp&G through another company was not a loan but his own money.
Michael and co-counsel Christi R. McCoy of Oxford said Neilson will not be making any more public comments until after they know the government’s plan for the rest of the case.
McCoy said she’s never felt so much pressure in a criminal case.
“It was because we knew he was innocent,” she said outside the courthouse, as they posed for post-trial photographs. “This was very personal.”
Seth Pounds of Booneville also was on the defense team.
Michelle Neilson’s father, Dean Gebhart of Jackson, who was with her every day during the trial, said, “I am very thankful that justice has been done, and that God has blessed a good family.”
The Neilsons have four children ages 16 to 5, who got phone calls as soon as their parents could leave the courtroom.
“This is the happiest I’ve ever been, since the birth of my children,” Neilson said. “This is going to be a good Thanksgiving.”
His legal troubles, he and others insisted, came from a feud with then-U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee, whom Neilson reported to the Department of Justice for an investigation of north Mississippi residents with Middle Eastern surnames. Greenlee declines to comment on the accusations.
But it posed a legal conflict of interest, and Middle Louisiana District prosecutors were brought in to handle the case.
Michael said they “tried a tremendous case” and represented the government well.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
PATSY BRUMFIELD / NEMS Daily Journal