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story.lead_photo.caption In this file photo former state Sen. Jon Woods walks into the John Paul Hammershmidt Federal Building in Fayetteville. ( NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo / Andy Shupe)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A former state senator convicted of corruption has asked to be released from prison pending his appeal, and the government filed a motion Friday opposing the request.

Destruction of evidence by an FBI investigator in the case is just one reason for believing Jon Woods' case could be reversed on appeal, Woods' defense attorneys argue in a Nov. 20 motion for release. His attorneys filed the motion in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Friday's reply by the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Arkansas cites a 1996 ruling by the same appeals court. Federal law sets a very high bar for a release of someone already in federal prison, the response said.

A federal court jury in Fayetteville convicted Woods on May 3, 2018, of 15 felony counts related to taking kickbacks from state grants he directed. Judge Timothy Brooks sentenced him to 18 years and four months.

"The Bail Reform Act of 1984 made it much more difficult for a convicted criminal defendant to obtain his release pending appeal," Friday's response said while quoting the appeals court in United States v. Marshall. "The act's intent was, bluntly, that fewer convicted persons remain at large while pursuing their appeals.'"

Under the standard set by the 1984 act, Woods must show a substantial chance of success of his appeal, Friday's reply said.

The appeals of Woods and two co-conspirators all cite the wiping of a FBI laptop's hard drive by agent Robert Cessario. Cessario admitted in pretrial hearings to getting the hard drive of the computer professionally wiped after being ordered to turn it over for inspection. The judge allowed the trial to proceed despite defense objections.

The motion for release on bond is Woods' third such request since his conviction. Brooks denied his first request Sept. 24, 2018, two days before he arrived at federal prison in Fort Worth, where he remains. Woods' defense attorneys filed the second request Nov. 1 with the 8th Circuit. That too was denied, but the court allowed Woods to make a new request after briefs in the appeal were filed.

Oren Paris III of Springdale, who was president of Ecclesia College in Springdale at the time, paid kickbacks to Woods and then-state Rep. Micah Neal, both of Springdale, in return for $550,000 in state grants to the college from 2013-2015. The kickbacks were routed through the consulting business of Randell Shelton Jr., formerly of Springdale.

Neal pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and cooperated with investigators. He received one year of home confinement. Woods and Shelton were convicted at trial. Shelton is also appealing to the 8th Circuit largely on the same grounds as Woods. He received a six-year sentence.

Paris agreed to plead guilty on the condition he be allowed to appeal based on Cessario's action. His appeal is also pending. He's serving a three-year sentence.

State Desk on 11/30/2019

Print Headline: Release of ex-senator opposed

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