U.S. high court declines to hear Halat’s appeal

By JACK ELLIOTT JR.

The Associated Press

JACKSON – The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear arguments from former Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat Jr. that his 18-year sentence was too harsh for his role in a conspiracy that led to the murder of a Gulf Coast judge.

The nation’s high court, in an order this week, let stand a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that there were no errors in Halat’s sentencing in 1997.

A federal district judge in 2004 rejected Halat’s arguments that the jury’s verdict was ambiguous. Because of that, Halat said it was possible that his sentence exceeded the maximum allowed by federal guidelines.

Halat – mayor of Biloxi from 1989-93 – was sentenced for his role in a conspiracy to kill Circuit Judge Vincent Sherry and Sherry’s wife, Margaret, who was a former member of the Biloxi City Council and had been a mayoral candidate. The couple was gunned down in their north Biloxi home on Sept. 14, 1987.

Five other people also were convicted in the case.

The 5th Circuit initially sided with the Mississippi court, noting that Halat waived his right to appeal his sentence. Halat asked the appeals court to reconsider.

On Dec. 2, 2005, the 5th Circuit agreed to rehear the case on the issue of ambiguous verdict but again ruled against Halat. The court said there was no question about the jury’s verdict or the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering Sr., who presided over the trial.

The 5th Circuit said the punishment provided in federal sentencing guidelines was “greater than the sentence given Halat.”

Halat and others were convicted of participating in a scam that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from lonely homosexuals. The profits were intended to help free Kirksey McCord Nix Jr. from his Louisiana prison cell, where he ran the scheme.

Halat allegedly told Nix that he suspected Sherry, his former law partner and friend, of stealing the scam money. Nix allegedly wanted Sherry killed.

Halat had contended his conviction was based on witness lies, namely from co-defendant Mike Gillich Jr., who once operated strip clubs on the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Halat’s appeal in 2000.

Halat is scheduled for release in June 2008 from federal prison in Yazoo City, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.