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Conviction Upheld of Ex-Miss. Mayor

October 22, 1999

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A federal appeals court panel unanimously upheld the convictions of former Biloxi, Miss., Mayor Pete Halat and three others on charges related to the 1987 slayings of a circuit judge and his wife.

Attorneys for Halat, Kirksey McCord Nix, Sheri LaRa Sharpe and Thomas Leslie Holcomb argued unsuccessfully before a three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the statute of limitations had run out in the case. The appellate ruling was made public Thursday.

The four were tried in 1997 on racketeering charges that wove scams, drug dealing and coverups with a murder-for-hire plot.

Prosecutors said Nix, already in prison in an unrelated case, bilked gay men of hundreds of thousands of dollars when they responded to fake personal ads that offered love and companionship. From inside prison, Nix persuaded men answering the ads to send in money, and Sharpe, his onetime girlfriend, and others would pick up the cash.

But when some of the cash disappeared, Halat blamed the theft on Vincent Sherry _ Halat’s former law partner _ setting in motion the murder-for-hire plot, prosecutors said. Sherry and his wife, Margaret, a former Biloxi City Council member, were found shot to death in their home. Prosecutors said Holcomb was the trigger-man.

The indictment did not indicate whether Sherry had actually done anything wrong.

Last summer, defense lawyers claimed prosecutors were too late in charging the defendants because the statute of limitations for conspiracy is five years. Federal prosecutors said the conspiracy to bilk gays continued after the couple was slain, avoiding problems with the statute of limitations.

Halat’s attorney, Tommy Spina, said the case would likely be appealed to the full 5th circuit.

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