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Lawyer guilty in refuge sex case

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com · 340-2435

A federal jury in Decatur found Gary C. Huckaby guilty on all counts Thursday of sexual misconduct at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

Huckaby, 68, is a prominent Huntsville lawyer and former president of the Alabama Bar Association. He could be sentenced to two years in prison and fined as much as $250,000 for abusive sexual contact on federal lands, a felony. He also was convicted of indecent exposure, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

He faces the possibility of losing his law license and having to register as a sex offender.

The government charged Huckaby with grabbing an undercover wildlife officer’s groin, then exposing and fondling his own genitals. The incident occurred at Wheeler’s Beaverdam Boardwalk Trail in East Limestone County.

The government seemed to face many negatives as it entered its fourth day of trial Thursday, but Assistant U.S. Attorney David Estes had them looking like positives by the time the jury headed for deliberations.

The most dramatic example came at the end of his closing argument, when Estes showed the jury a photograph of Huckaby’s granddaughters, a defense exhibit.

The defense had projected the image on a large screen with regularity. Huckaby took the two girls on an outing two weeks before his July 20 encounter at Wheeler. The photo showed them looking for tadpoles in a creek. Huckaby testified his reason for being at Beaverdam on July 20 was to see if it was safe enough from sexual predators to merit a return trip with his granddaughters.

Estes said that in his 13 years as a prosecutor, he had seen many horrible things. None was as horrible, he said, as that picture.

“It made me ashamed to be a lawyer,” he said, voice breaking, “that (defense counsel) would drag those children into this disgusting matter. That’s desperation, ladies and gentlemen.”

Another piece of coal that sparkled for the prosecution by the end of the trial was a videotape secretly recorded by state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources officer Jerome Lowery III at a meeting he attended with lawyers at Beaverdam in December.

Lowery was important for the prosecution because he was the only one to witness the contact between Blanks and Huckaby. That he had made the videotape covertly became a refrain for the defense.

“Kudos to Officer Lowery,” said Estes in his closing. “He wanted to protect himself because they might call him a liar, and they did call him a liar.”

The recording, said Estes, undid defense claims that Lowery had made false statements about where he stood when he witnessed the incident. While the defense argued to the contrary, Lowery’s words on the recording seemed to confirm his testimony, which was that he had moved back and forth to gain the best vantage point of the park bench where the incident took place.

Estes made no headway in his cross-examination of Huckaby on Thursday, but he brought out that Huckaby has been a lawyer for more than 40 years and charged his clients up to $400 per hour. In his closing, Estes argued Huckaby used his skills to concoct “his well-crafted, well-carved testimony.”

In a bizarre twist, Huckaby’s own words — written in late 2001 — may have contributed to the verdict. At the time, Huckaby was defending WHNT-TV from a defamation lawsuit brought by a man accused of fondling his exposed genitals at Beaverdam.

In a legal brief filed in that case, Huckaby explained to the court that a common method employed by homosexuals in soliciting sexual liaisons at Beaverdam was stimulating themselves in front of potential partners.

That’s precisely what Huckaby was accused of doing almost five years later.

One of the most serious problems in Huckaby’s case may have been the fact that he did not complain to other officers about Blanks’ conduct.

According to Huckaby, Blanks fondled himself, asked Huckaby if he wanted oral sex, lunged at him and arrested him. Yet Huckaby said nothing about any of this to the officers in the processing area who ticketed him.

“He’s a member of one of the most prestigious law firms in the state,” Estes said to the jury. “He is somebody, and he’s not going to be pushed around by some little fish and wildlife officer at Wheeler Refuge.”

Defense attorney Mark White was at times combative in his closing argument, which Estes interrupted with numerous objections.

“Your verdict of not guilty is the most important first step in getting his life back,” White said. “I’ll take the next step. There are people who have to answer for this.”

Through his lawyer, Huckaby declined comment after the verdict.

After hearing the verdict, Huckaby and his wife — who attended the entire trial — clutched each other in a long embrace. He then hugged each of his three sons.

The court released Huckaby on bond. Sentencing has not been scheduled.

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