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Ouachita County judge to be released to home incarceration

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published January 28, 2013 at 5:27 p.m.

file-ouachita-county-judge-james-hesterly-is-escorted-from-the-federal-courthouse-in-el-dorado-after-a-jan-18-hearing

FILE - Ouachita County Judge James Hesterly is escorted from the federal courthouse in El Dorado after a Jan. 18 hearing.

— The Ouachita County judge facing fraud and bribery charges has been ordered released to home detention pending a trial scheduled for later this year.

Mike Hesterly took the stand Monday in U.S. District Court in Hot Springs, contesting allegations that he threatened his ex-wife, a federal agent investigating his case and the agent's family.

Prosecutors had asked that Hesterly be kept in custody pending his March trial because of the purported threats.

After more than two hours of testimony at the detention hearing Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant ultimately ruled that Hesterly can be released with a number of conditions. Among them, he will be under home incarceration with electronic monitoring at his parents' residence in Camden.

Hesterly is allowed to run the county from the home, though Bryant ordered him not to have any contact with several witnesses in the case including his secretary and the county road superintendent. Hesterly told the judge he would abide by the order but didn't know how he could work under those conditions.

"I don't either," Bryant told him. "And I don't pretend to know."

The ruling came after a hearing in which Hesterly's ex-wife offered emotional testimony that he had threatened to kill her and to seek out the FBI investigator and his family and harm them.

Leigh Adams described Hesterly as an abusive husband who said he would put a "bullet in [her] head." And she testified that he asked her about the agent investigating the bribery case.

"He said 'Well, I'm trying to find out where he lives and if he has a wife and kids because if he's going to f up my life, I'm going to f up his,'" she testified.

Hesterly and his attorney accused Adams of lying in a bid to get custody of their children.

But prosecutors also questioned an Arkansas State Police investigator who covertly recorded a phone conversation between Hesterly and Adams in which he said while talking about the case: "The motherf*s who caused this ain't going to be OK. One of these days."

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas Conner Eldridge said that was a blatant threat, but Hesterly disagreed during a contentious cross examination session.

"I do believe the people that started this unjustly will pay in the future," said Hesterly, who maintained he is innocent of the charges against him. "But that's not to say I'm going to make them pay because I want to go to heaven one of these days."

Earlier in his testimony, he called it absurd that he would ever threaten an FBI agent.

"I've got four years of college," he said. "I'm not a genius, but I'm not a fool. I would never threaten an FBI agent or any law enforcement agent."

Federal authorities allege that Hesterly awarded Harry Clemons Jr. a contract to clean up debris in Ouachita County left by a pair of 2009 tornadoes in exchange for the contribution, which is reported to have been more than $5,000.

Clemons, who is also charged in the case, is the owner of Clemons Construction in Bearden, and Hesterly has been a county judge for more than 10 years.

The trial for both men is currently set for March 13.

Read more in Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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