Jan 12, 2011 9:36 PM by Alison Haynes
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A longtime New Orleans political operative who is gravely ill with cancer asked a federal judge Wednesday to postpone his trial on charges he conspired to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in government grant money earmarked for charitable and educational programs.
Doctors for Mose Jefferson, a brother of former Congressman William Jefferson, estimate he may have no more than six months to live.
Dr. Brian Boulmay, who has treated Mose Jefferson at LSU hospital in New Orleans, testified Wednesday that it would be difficult but not impossible for Jefferson to withstand a trial if his condition improves. Boulmay said Jefferson's lung cancer is incurable and has left him in a "tenuous state."
"He could have some improvement in his functional status," Boulmay said, "or he could quickly get sicker."
Jefferson is hospitalized and was too sick to attend Wednesday's hearing, said his lawyer, Arthur Lemann. U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle said he wants to visit Jefferson in the hospital before he rules.
A trial for Jefferson and former state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt on racketeering conspiracy charges is scheduled to start Jan. 31 and last three to four weeks.
Lemelle said Gill Pratt's trial will proceed on that date even if he postpones trial for Jefferson.
Jefferson already is serving a 10-year prison sentence for his convictions in a separate bribery case.
Lemann said it is inhumane for U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office to insist on trying Jefferson in his condition.
"What is the point in putting this man through this torture of a trial?" he asked.
Michael Fawer, Gill Pratt's attorney, claimed prosecutors are opposed to delaying the trial for Jefferson because they want a convicted felon sitting next to his client.
"The government is showing a total disregard for the value of human life," Fawer said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Friel said prosecutors are sympathetic but believe Jefferson is healthy enough to stand trial.
Dr. Benjamin Barker, an LSU hospital physician providing daily treatment to Jefferson, said his patient's breathing has improved but Jefferson can only sit up in bed for short periods of time, is taking painkillers and would probably need to use a wheelchair in court.
"He would not be at his 100 percent. That I know for sure," Barker testified Wednesday over the telephone.
Jefferson's sister, former New Orleans tax assessor Betty Jefferson, and her daughter, Angela Coleman, pleaded guilty in the case in February 2010 and are cooperating with prosecutors.
William Jefferson, who was voted out of office in 2009, was convicted last year of corruption charges in an unrelated case in Virginia. He was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison, but remains free while his appeal is pending.
Boulmay told the FBI he refused to declare Mose Jefferson unfit for trial when he discussed his medical condition with relatives, including William Jefferson.
"Boulmay knew of Bill's legal problems before he met him," the FBI said in a report filed in the case. "Boulmay felt Bill was trying to 'game him' by trying to suggest that Boulmay could determine Jefferson was not fit to stand trial."