Former Mayor Accused of Contract Killings, Prison Scam
Oct. 22, 1996
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Nine years after a judge and his wife were gunned down, a former mayor of Biloxi was indicted Tuesday on charges he ordered the slayings in a dispute over missing profits from a con game that preyed on gay men.
Pete Halat Jr., 54, mayor of Biloxi from 1989 to 1993, was charged along with four other people with murder conspiracy, racketeering and other federal charges in the slayings of Vincent and Margaret Sherry.
The Sherrys _ he was a circuit judge, she a former city councilwoman _ were shot in the head in their Biloxi home in 1987 in what the FBI said was a $20,000 hit.
The FBI said the two were killed on orders from Halat. Halat believed that Sherry, his law partner, had stolen from a bank account maintained by Halat on behalf of an imprisoned client, the FBI said.
It was Halat who found the bodies and delivered the eulogy at Sherry's funeral.
Halat's lawyer, David Chesnoff, said his client is innocent. ``He's upset that they want to believe the word of a bunch of convicts and con men over his,'' Chesnoff said.
Four people were convicted in 1991 for the ``lonely hearts club'' scam that prosecutors said led to the slayings of the Sherrys.
From 1986 to 1989, the four people placed personal ads in gay magazines to establish pen-pal relationships. The pen pals were then asked to send money to fictitious would-be lovers to get them out of scrapes with the law.
The FBI said Kirksey McCord Nix Jr. masterminded the scheme from the Louisiana State Prison, where he is serving life without parole for an unrelated murder.
Halat was Nix's lawyer and kept the thousands of dollars generated by the scheme in a bank account for Nix, the FBI said.
When some money turned up missing from the account, Halat blamed Sherry, and he and Nix arranged the murder, the FBI said. The indictment doesn't address whether Sherry actually took any money or knew of the scam.
Halat's lawyer said it is common for lawyers to keep bank accounts for clients, and Halat probably assumed the money being deposited into Nix's account was from his well-to-do family.
One of those involved in the con game had been charged with killing the Sherrys but was acquitted. Tuesday's indictment said another man, Thomas Leslie Holcomb, 44, of Evandale, Texas, was the actual triggerman, taking $20,000 to kill the couple.
Biloxi is a thriving casino city of about 47,000 people on the Gulf Coast, along the Louisiana state line.