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Attorney on trial
in refuge probe

Defense mum on why former bar association president was at Wheeler

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

Monday's mystery: What was Gary C. Huckaby doing at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on July 20?

The question is central to the prosecution of the prominent 68-year-old Huntsville lawyer, but the defense has yet to provide an answer.

But the prosecution has one, and it's lurid.

Huckaby is one of more than two dozen ticketed for various forms of sexual misconduct as a result of encounters with Greg Blanks, a Georgia-based refuge officer, employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who participated in a four-day undercover operation. Blanks was the only non-uniformed officer involved.

Huckaby, formerly president of the Alabama Bar Association, encountered Blanks at the Beaverdam Boardwalk Trail in the eastern Limestone County portion of Wheeler, an area also known as North Alabama Birding Trail No. 25.

Documents filed by the government allege that Huckaby approached Blanks at 4:50 p.m. July 20 while he sat on a bench on the boardwalk. Huckaby, the government alleges, asked Blanks if he had "heard of anyone out here being arrested lately," and Blanks said he had not.

Then, according to pre-trial testimony by an officer, Huckaby squeezed Blanks' genitals twice. Huckaby then, the government alleges, "unzipped his pants, exposed his erect penis, and began masturbating in front of Officer Blanks," while asking Blanks, "Do you like that?"

After Blanks identified himself as an officer, the government alleges, Huckaby said, "You invited it."

A state conservation officer witnessed some of the encounter through binoculars, according to Assistant U.S. District Attorney David Estes, in his opening argument.

"He won't testify to the exposure because he couldn't see that (because Huckaby's) back was to him," Estes said.

Picking a jury

The court began the day Monday with a panel of 41 jurors, whittling it to 14. By day's end, the government still was questioning its first witness, local Refuge Officer Darrin Speegle, who initiated the operation.

"They say Gary went out there for a quick round of sex," said one of Huckaby's lawyers, Augusta Dowd, to the jury. "That is not what happened. That is not why he went to the refuge. By the time you hear all the evidence ... you will know why Gary was there."

In the meantime, the defense isn't telling.

Huckaby is charged with two counts: abusive sexual contact, a felony, and indecent exposure, a misdemeanor.

A conviction on the felony count could lead to Huckaby losing his law license and having to register as a sex offender. U.S. District Judge Scott Coogler banned the lawyers from mentioning any of this to the jury.

"We're not going to try this case based on punishment," Coogler said. "Don't use the word 'felony.' "

The defense has not said why Huckaby was at Wheeler on July 20, but it has given some hints of its plan of attack.

Huckaby lawyer Mark White told Coogler that he planned to call an expert witness who would testify that the state conservation officer could not have witnessed the contact between Huckaby and Blanks, alleged by the government to be at a park bench, from his location.

Another expert witness, a Huntsville doctor, apparently will testify that it is "highly unlikely" that Huckaby could have had an erection as alleged by Blanks, according to documents filed with the court before trial.

"You're going to leave this trial knowing things about Gary Huckaby that no one other than his wife should ever know," Dowd said to the jury.

Coogler reserved judgment on whether he would allow either defense expert to provide opinion testimony at trial.

In her opening argument, Dowd stressed that the evidence against Huckaby does not include audio or video, and that neither Blanks nor the state conservation officer who claims to have witnessed the conduct made written reports until well after it happened.

White has also said that Huckaby is not a homosexual. In two earlier trials alleging similar conduct occurring during the same undercover operation, defendants said they were homosexual. One was acquitted, and one was found guilty.

"This case doesn't have anything to do with sexual orientation," Estes said in his opening. "The government does not know if the defendant is homosexual and doesn't care. This case is about the denial of access of the citizens of this country" to public land.

White introduced the jury to Huckaby's wife, three sons, a daughter-in-law and one son's mother-in-law, all of whom were in the courtroom all day. None are on the defense witness list.

Also in attendance were a slew of lawyers and paralegals, some representing Huckaby and some from his lawfirm, Bradley Arant Rose & White. One prospective juror said all the dark suits concerned her.

"I see all the lawyers around, and I figure he must be guilty or he wouldn't need so many," she said to the judge in response to a question about her ability to serve on the jury. The other potential jurors were not in the courtroom at the time.

Coogler later struck her from the panel, along with six others, for cause. The parties removed other jurors through peremptory challenges, which require no stated reasons.

The jury ultimately chosen includes seven white women, one black woman and six white men. Their average age appeared to be under 50.

Huckaby, white-haired and clean-shaven, with dark circles under his eyes, was motionless during most of the proceedings. He occasionally glanced at his wife, seated in the courtroom behind him, and smiled. He was expressionless when White made jokes. When the jury was outside the courtroom, he frequently huddled with his lawyers.

Estes and White sparred over numerous issues Monday.

"Y'all don't get into an argument this early," Coogler said at one point. "You'll have plenty of time to argue later."

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