Defense rests in Murphy Painter trial, closing arguments set for Thursday

Murphy Painter
Murphy Painter

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The defense rested their case Wednesday at 2:42 p.m. in the federal trial against former Alcohol, Tobacco and Control Board Commissioner Murphy Painter.

Defense attorney Michael Fawer presented six witnesses after the prosecution rested its case. Two defense witnesses took the stand Tuesday. Four more took the stand Wednesday.

Prior to court resuming Wednesday morning, Judge James Brady said he took under advisement the defense's motion for acquittal filed Tuesday. Fawer wanted the entire case thrown out saying the government had not produced evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Judge Brady said he was "going to deny motion on all counts." He added he had looked at the case law and the law is in the favor of the government.

The defense continued with its first witness of the day, Steve Spalitta. Spalitta started as an ATC agent in 1998 and left in Sept. 2007. Spalitta testified he was responsible for bringing Voyager, the database that provides the background checks, to ATC. He told the jury he had passwords to everyone's Voyager account, including Painter's. He added Louis Thompson, Brant Thompson and some others at ATC had Painter's Voyager password. That's contrary to what both Thompsons testified saying they did not have access to Painter's Voyager password.

During cross-examination, the prosecution's lead attorney Patricia Jones and co-counsel Shubra Shivpuri asked Spalitta the purpose of Voyager. Spalitta said, "The purpose of using Voyager was for criminal background checks."

Shivpuri asked if it would be appropriate to use Voyager for personal use. Spalitta replied, "No." When asked if it would be appropriate to use Voyager for curiosity because you saw someone on the news and wanted to know more, Spalitta said, "No."

The defense's second witness was Larry Hingle, the ATC assistant chief over enforcement for nearly 23 years. Hingle was key to prove a prosecution witness, Trevor McDonald, did indeed provide his internal audit results to Hingle. McDonald had previously testified he conducted an audit of all Voyager users and found the number of Painter's searches as concerning given his position of commissioner in the agency. He said when he found that information, he followed chain of command and gave that information to his boss, Hingle, who then gave it to his boss, Louis Thompson and continued up the chain of command to the Deputy Commissioner Brant Thompson. During testimony Wednesday however, Hingle said he could not remember if McDonald gave him that information.

Hingle was also shown several temporary alcohol permits for Champions Square in New Orleans next to the Superdome. The Brant Thompson had testified earlier in the week that he could not recall the alcohol permit being approved for Champions Square and if it was, he did not have anything to do with it. Hingle however was shown several temporary alcohol permits and confirmed all the signatures on those, were those of Brant Thompson. During cross-examination, Jones asked if those signatures were actually Thompson's or a stamped signature. Hingle said he did not know. The defense came back to say even if it was a stamped signature, the permits were granted under Thompson's watch.

The third witness was Christian Avery, who provided outside counsel for ATC between 2006 and 2012. Avery testified that there was a certain type of permit the governor's office was looking for and the conversations were "pretty hot and heavy at that time." He added that it was the first time he had seen the governor's office involved in a permit be it through emails or phone calls. The defense showed Avery an email where the governor's office was copied on it. Avery paraphrased one paragraph saying they (the person(s) requesting the Champions Square permit) were aware that what they wanted to do, they couldn't do it but they were trying to figure out a way around it. The prosecution did not cross-examine Avery.

The defense's final witness, Michael Roop, was the last on the stand. He was deemed an expert as a Louisiana law enforcement official. He said use of the Voyager system was specific to criminal justice purposes. He added when he wanted to run a check through NCIC, his primary reason was to see if the person is wanted. The second reason was the person's criminal history. Roop also said he relied heavily on his police instinct for background checks. When asked about driver's license checks and license plate checks, Roop said these are very important and give very detailed information and it's not something run just to run. If something seems suspicious, that's why he would write down a license plate and ask dispatch to run it.

Closing arguments will begin Thursday morning and the jury will then get the case. Judge Brady has said he wants to wrap up the trial by this Friday.


Painter, 59, is accused of performing illegal background checks on hundreds of people, mainly women. He is being represented by attorney Michael Fawer, a high-profile lawyer out of New Orleans.

Painter was indicted on computer fraud, making false statements and aggravated identity theft by a grand jury on May 23, 2012. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 13, 2012. A judge released him on his own recognizance, so he is allowed to remain free throughout the trial.

Inspector General Stephen Street said Kelli Suire claimed Painter was stalking her. He said investigators later found Painter used state and Federal Bureau of Investigations databases to get personal information about Suire and her attorney, Jill Craft.

US Attorney Don Cazayoux said if Painter is convicted of the above charges, he could face a maximum of 82 years in prison and fines up to more than $12 million.

The indictment alleges Painter made false statements to FBI agents. He is accused of using law enforcement databases for "non-official criminal justice purposes." The indictment also claims Painter exceeded his authorized access and obtained person identification information on several people throughout the area.

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