After four years of federal investigation and two years after three Jacksonville police officers were indicted in a criminal conspiracy, the prosecutors spent less than two hours Tuesday laying out their case against a man they call the kingpin of a ring of corrupt cops.
In the government's opening statement in the trial of Karl Waldon, 39, prosecutors said murder victim Sami Safar wasn't supposed to die on July 3, 1998.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Klindt told the 12 jurors and four alternates that Waldon's plan was to pull over the Northside businessman after he left his bank with $51,000 in cash to be used in his three convenience stores, arrest him on a bogus charge, leaving the cash in Safar's vehicle for two accomplices to steal later. But when Safar (pictured, right) refused to leave the money behind, the money and the victim ended up in the back of Waldon's patrol car.
Prosecutors said that Waldon strangled Safar in the back of his patrol car while the victim pleaded for his life.
Klint told the jury that Waldon told his accomplices, "He's seen my face. We've got to take him out."
Prosecutors said Waldon and two other former police officers -- Aric Sinclair and Jason Pough -- who participated in a ongoing criminal conspiracy to steal money and drugs were driven by greed. They called the three men "bold," and that they thought they were invincible.
Sinclair and Pough have pleaded guilty to related charges, and Sinclair was the first witness called by the prosecution.
In his opening statement, Waldon's attorney, A. Russell Smith, said his client is the victim of lies concocted by drug dealers and crooked police officers to get deals from the government.
"Freedom is a powerful incentive for evil people to lie," Smith said. "These cooperating criminals are the government's case."
Smith told jurors there is no physical evidence connecting Waldon to the killing and a series of other crimes.
After opening statements, Sinclair testified that he refused to help when Waldon asked him to help rob Safar. He said later Waldon told him that "things got out of hand."
When Sinclair asked Waldon if that meant he had killed Safar, he said Waldon answered "yes."
Defense attorneys said Sinclair is lying to protect himself. They will cross-examine Sinclair on Wednesday.
Before the trial is over, the defense plans to call three men described by Sheriff Nat Glover as the biggest drug dealers in Jacksonville. Waldon's parents are also expected to testify.
Since his arrest nearly two years ago, Waldon has maintained his innocence on all charges, including violating Safar's civil rights, distributing illegal drugs and obstruction of justice. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Channel 4's Jennifer Waugh has been following this case for the last 2½ years. She'll have a complete reports on Eyewitness News throughout the duration of this trial.
Significant developments will be reported on News4Jax.com as soon as they occur.
- October 2, 2002: Jury Selection Begins In Karl Waldon Trial
- August 28, 2002: Feds Indict Ex-Cop With More Charges
- September 7, 2001: Sinclair Pleads Guilty
- August 28, 2001: Former Cop To Face Federal Death Penalty
- August 7, 2001: Witness In Federal Police Probe Pleads Guilty
- April 25, 2001: Pough Pleads Guilty, Will Testify In Case
- April 11, 2001: New Allegations Say Waldon Planned To Kill Friend
- January 31, 2001: Judge Denies Bond For Former Police Officer
- January 29, 2001: Prosecutors Admit Weaknesses In Case Against Former Officer
- December 18, 2000: Officer To Be Extradited Back To Jacksonville