RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Prosecutor Alan Norton doesn't know whether FBI Agent Ken Hillman lied during a grand jury hearing, breaking the law. But Norton said in court Monday he also doesn't remember Hillman telling the truth.
Hillman used to lead a now-defunct "To Catch a Predator"-style FBI task force that chatted undercover with potential child molesters. But federal prosecutors began investigating Hillman two years ago amid accusations that the agent lied about how he built a case against some defendants.
Hillman is accused of letting his mistress, Angela Russell, work as an undercover agent even though she is not a trained police officer. During a pretrial motion hearing for a collection of pending task force cases, though, Norton said that Hillman did not mention Russell's involvement during a grand jury hearing.
"If he said Ms. Russell was communicating [with potential criminals], I would have stopped, taken him to the side and asked him what was going on," said Norton, an assistant district attorney in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, during the hearing Monday in Catoosa County Superior Court.
Defense attorney McCracken Poston asked for Monday's hearing because he wants a judge to force the local district attorney's office to recuse itself, giving the cases to another prosecutor in the state.
Poston represents Michael Hardy, whom the task force arrested in the fall of 2012. Poston believes Russell chatted undercover with his client because she told Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin after the accusations came to light that she chatted with "the marine."
Poston said his client was in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time of his arrest.
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Grant Brantley, who is handling this case because local judges have recused themselves, did not rule on Poston's request because the attorney also wants to call Russell to the stand. She did not come to court Monday because her lawyer was not available. Brantley set a new hearing date for May 9.
During Monday's hearing, Poston tried to convince Brantley that Franklin should not prosecute any more task force cases because some of his employees are too close to Hillman.
Assistant District Attorney Beth Evans' husband, Tom Evans, used to be a member of the task force. And Norton testified Monday that federal investigators have asked him about what Hillman said during grand jury hearings.
"You are potentially a witness," Poston said Monday.
"It would seem so," Norton replied.
Poston also argued that Franklin should not handle the cases because some of his prosecutors told task force members how they could chat with potential child molesters without "entrapping" the defendants. But Norton defended his boss, saying Franklin would have already backed away from the case if he needed to.
"I trust his judgment," he said.
Meanwhile, defendants in a collection of task force cases will continue to wait, something they've already been doing for more than two years. Monday's hearing was supposed to happen in August 2013, but Brantley delayed it when he found out federal prosecutors were investigating Hillman, whom the FBI suspended last year.
Brantley wanted the investigators to finish looking into Hillman before holding hearings on the agent's cases. But after two years, he has lost patience.
"I'm frustrated," he said Monday. "It's not moving. I got [defendants] on bond, and they're twisting in the wind. I got people in custody."
Also Monday, two former members of the task force said in court that they became uncomfortable working with Hillman when they began to suspect he was having an affair with Russell. They didn't like her acting like she was a police officer.
"She kept wanting to interject her ideas, which were not very sound," Catoosa County Sheriff's Office Detective Tim Deal said. "It became pretty annoying to [Rossville police Detective Dave] Scroggins and I."
Scroggins said he "didn't trust her."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at email@example.com or 423-757-6476.
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