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Suspect admits exposure
Explicit testimony in refuge sting trial

By Eric Fleischauer 340-2435

A defendant admits exposing himself to an officer in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on July 20, but denies he broke federal law.

Walter Eugene Brannan, 47, of Hartselle admitted the exposure, as well as the fact that he has pierced genitals, before testimony started Thursday in his trial in U.S. District Court in Decatur.

The trial paused later Thursday, with U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn ordering a Decatur Daily reporter out of the courtroom while lawyers argued over a motion. The defendant's testimony comes Friday.

Brannan is one of about 20 defendants who U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officer Greg Blanks said exposed their genitals during a four-day period beginning July 20. Blanks' testimony led to an acquittal last month and a conviction Wednesday.

Blanks, based in Savannah, Ga., said he has been involved in more than 20 similar operations during his 14 years with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

He could not estimate, he said, how many men have exposed their genitals to him during that time period.

Blanks testified that on July 20, he was sitting on a bench on the Beaverdam Trail in Limestone County. He was not "undercover," he testified, but was out of uniform, wearing a T-shirt, sandals and cargo shorts.

Brannan, he testified, walked past him on the boardwalk. The two exchanged no words. On Brannan's return a few minutes later, however, the two talked.

After exchanging greetings, Blanks testified, Brannan said he had spent the morning in a hotel room with a male friend and had photographs of their activities.

Blanks testified that Brannan then undid his pants and exposed his erect penis. He asked Blanks to engage in oral sex.

Blanks said he then identified himself as a federal officer.

"He immediately put his penis back in his pants," Blanks testified.

Blanks testified Brannan had a silver ring in his genitals.

Blanks said he did nothing to encourage Brannan's display, or that of the other men cited in the Wheeler Refuge sting operation.

The prosecution's main hurdle appears to be whether the defendant's actions "caused affront or alarm" — an element of the crime — to Blanks, who testified his assignment was to ferret out deviant sexual activity.

"I didn't like that he had exposed his penis to me," the agent testified. "There was no reason for him to do that. I was just sitting on the bench."

Brannan's lawyer, Bruce Gardner of Huntsville, suggested in opening arguments that Blanks had solicited Brannan's actions.

Judge Blackburn ordered a reporter from the courtroom Thursday afternoon while Brannan's lawyer argued for acquittal of his client. Friday, Brannan will explain why he exposed himself to the federal officer.

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