Neilson trial: It's the defense's turn to try to score

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – FBI agent Hal Neilson’s defense team threw a Hail Mary pass Tuesday, without a touchdown.
Neilson, 49, of Oxford is on trial accused on five counts that he lied about his financial interest in the Oxford FBI Building, where he was the top agent.
His trial began Nov. 8 and could wrap up Thursday. The government rested its case about noon Tuesday.
The defense’s boldest move so far came mid-afternoon, after Judge Sharion Aycock declined to acquit Neilson of the charges outside a jury’s decision.
That’s when Christi R. McCoy of Oxford lit the fire some spectators were waiting for: She asked Aycock to be allowed to present new evidence that a feud between Neilson and then-U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee was the impetus for Neilson’s investigation and subsequent indictment.
A couple of weeks ago, Aycock banned the defense from mentioning this bad blood.
But McCoy went straight to it about 3 p.m., saying that a government document the defense gained earlier this week, shows Greenlee retaliated against Neilson, who had complained to the Department of Justice about the Northern District’s region-wide investigation of people with Middle Eastern surnames.
She accused Greenlee of instructing “someone” to search Neilson’s land records and raise the stakes for his criminal prosecution.
Prosecutor Richard Bourgeois Jr. said the defense tactic was “just another way to say, ‘Don’t find the defendant guilty.'”
Late Tuesday, Greenlee declined again to comment on the accusations. While he isn’t likely to be called in the current prosecution, he may not be able to escape a civil lawsuit reportedly in the works.
The defense began its case about 4 p.m. with the first of character witnesses for Neilson. If found guilty of all charges, he faces up to 25 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.
Oxford tax attorney Brad Walsh will resume testimony when court opens at 8:30 a.m. today. He has offered explanations to some of the government’s accusations against Neilson.
The defense walks a fine line with character witnesses because the government can come back with information to refute their good opinions.
Whether Neilson will take the stand in his own defense wasn’t known late Tuesday.
For minute-by-minute trial testimony and reports, go to NEMS360.com.