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Attorneys say 2 high-profile clients' Wheeler cases weak

By Eric Fleischauer 340-2435

Defense attorneys for two high-profile clients say a weak U.S. case became weaker when a jury in Decatur found one man arrested in the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge sting not guilty.

"If it was not so serious for the defendants," said Mark White, attorney for former Alabama Bar Association President Gary Huckaby, "this would be the 'Larry, Curly and Moe' show of prosecutions."

On Dec. 11, a federal jury deliberated 20 minutes before finding Anthony Gentry of Huntsville not guilty of sexually touching an undercover Fish and Wildlife Service officer at Beaverdam Boardwalk Trail.

The agent, refuge officer Greg Blanks, testified that Gentry groped the officer's crotch without provocation. He said 15 other men grabbed his crotch during a four-day sting operation, and that he did not solicit the contacts.

Jake Watson, lawyer for suspended Salem United Methodist Church minister Gradson Tanner of Huntsville, said he suspects the Gentry jury found the undercover agent's testimony unbelievable.

"It says to me that they had a problem with an officer who was touched 15 times out (at Wheeler) and 20 or 30 times in his career as a so-called undercover homosexual," Watson said. "He must have been doing something to make it happen."

Neither Watson nor White would give details on the defense they expect to present at their February trials.

White said his client, Huckaby, is not homosexual and did not make any sexual overtures toward Blanks.

"You'll have to wait for the trial for details but, believe me, my client had a perfectly appropriate reason for being out there," White said. "You'll find that what people thought was a legitimate prosecution is absolutely not."

White said Huckaby, if convicted, would lose his law license.

"They've tried to ruin him already," White said. "They (the U.S. attorney's office) have an Abu Ghraib mentality that was evident at the (Gentry) trial. Gary Huckaby is just an average citizen."

Both lawyers said they expect their trials to go forward, notwithstanding the Gentry verdict.

Jill Ellis, public information officer for the U.S. attorney's office of the Northern District of Alabama, said any impact on the other Wheeler refuge cases would be indirect.

"Every case is individual," Ellis said. "The outcome of the previous Wheeler trial will not have an impact on the outcome of other trials because it has different facts."

One fact the three cases have in common, though, is that the main witness for the government in each is Blanks.

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