Federal prosecutors in the Western District of Arkansas have to decide whether to retry K. Vaughn Knight after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge’s decision to throw out his convictions.
Knight, an attorney, was convicted by a federal court jury in November 2013 on eight felony counts related to his work for convicted real estate developer Brandon Barber. But U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes ultimately acquitted Knight on one count of lying to the FBI and ordered a new trial on the other seven convictions, in part because the jury spent only about six hours deliberating the complex case.
The U.S. Attorney’s office, led until last month by Conner Eldridge, appealed Holmes’ order. In a 34-page opinion, two of the three judges who heard the appeal concurred with Holmes’ decision to grant new trials on seven counts, but overruled his decision to acquit Knight on the false statement charge, instead ordering a new trial on that count as well.
“We are going to study the 8th Circuit Court opinion in the Vaughn Knight case and consult with the Department of Justice Criminal and Appellate divisions to determine what the appropriate course of action should be,” Interim U.S. Attorney Kenneth Elser said in a statement.
In crafting the majority opinion for himself and Judge Duane Benton, Judge C. Arlen Beam recounted in detail the actions that Knight allegedly took in order to help Barber hide assets from creditors and the bankruptcy court. They ultimately concluded that Holmes had properly exercised his authority to overturn the convictions, although not to acquit Knight on one of the charges.
The third judge in the appeal, Raymond W. Gruender, disagreed with his colleagues, saying that the jury’s job was not nearly as complicated at Beam’s opinion made it out to be
“For the jury, this case hinged upon whether Knight allowed Brandon Barber to use Knight’s [trust account] fraudulently to conceal funds in contemplation of Barber’s bankruptcy,” Gruender wrote in his dissent. “In my opinion, this issue is close, and a reasonable factfinder could have found either for Knight, or as it ultimately did, against him. Our legal system leaves the resolution of close issues like this one to a jury.”