The Baldwin County grand jury had one more day of duty. The next body would convene in September. District Attorney Judy Newcomb was pressing as hard as possible to have the Angel Downs murder case brought before them.
The more cynical locals mumbled about the election a week away. Others knew the pressure, in the media and the public, was climbing in the high profile case involving flamboyant Mobile politician Stephen Nodine and his slain mistress.
When asked in mid-morning, Nodine attorney John Williams sounded as if they were prepared for the possibility of an indictment being handed down. He wouldn’t give specifics but mainly said they were preparing for that end.
As expected, it was hot. The press milling about the courthouse steps tugged at collars and squinted at the town square. When the mercury reached the mid-90s, the gathering moved inside to a hallway near the grand jury.
For over six hours, reporters lolled on the benches, paced and chatted. Jurors would walk in and out of the room under the scrutiny of court personnel intent on keeping them away from media.
Other personnel came and went, Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack, various investigators, clerks and office personnel.
At one point, Newcomb walked by carrying a partially obscured exhibit. A poster was divided into three columns, one marked “Time,” the next “From” and the last “To.”
Finally, not long after evening news teams scrambled outside to set-up remote broadcasts, Newcomb emerged and told us what was about to happen and which courtroom to find.
The grand jury filed out, a line of law enforcement fencing them off from the press, and snaked across the hall into the court office.
In the courtroom, they handed documents to the judge who let them go. The group then gathered with the judge and Newcomb for a group photo. On the way out, they passed a desk where a clerk handed out packets with envelopes attached.
Angel Downs’ sister sat on the front row of the gallery.
Newcomb told media that even though the indictment was handed down, it was policy for them not to speak on the matter until an arrest was made.
“All I can tell you is that a decision was made and you might want to stick around,” Newcomb said.
Back outside, it was still sweltering. Various reporters began to answer cell phones, relaying news that television crews were notified by Nodine’s attorney that they were soon to be en route.
Sources from inside the courthouse emerged and said there was little luck finding him, that a “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) was issued for him. Vans and cars pulled out and scooted around the block to the jail.
Another 40 minutes passed, the growing mass of press eager to get the day over. The sun had dropped and the early evening steam was creeping in.
Nodine attorney John Williams pulled his red pick-up truck into a slot, then walked across the street to talk to Baldwin County investigators. He was surrounded by press then walked down to the docket room entrance to wait with the crowd.
Minutes later, Williams’ co-counsel Dennis Knizley pulled up in a red SUV, Nodine in the passenger seat surveying the scene. Media personnel swarmed across the street to surround the commissioner. The suspect grimaced for a second then stepped into the fray.
Cameras jockeyed for position. Television reporters shouted.
In the middle of the street, a deputy authoritatively stepped though the crowd as Nodine placed his hands behind his back. The cuffs clicked.
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Silent as he was ushered through the gauntlet of microphones and lenses and taunting questions yelled, Nodine seemed resigned.
His lawyers were focused. “He will be exonerated,” Knizley swore.
They described Nodine as composed on the journey over the bay. “He’s a strong man, a good guy, he was ‘stand up’ about it,” Knizley said.
Their explanation for Downs’ death? “He wasn’t there,” Williams said.
Bond was set at $500,000 dollars. Stipulations attached include abstinence from drug, drink and firearms, distance from the victim's family, no firearms, surrendering his passport and possible electronic monitoring.
We're thankful the grand jury, after reviewing the evidence, found there was probable cause to indict Stephen Nodine for murder," Neewcomb said. "This is about justice for Angel Downs."
Newcomb approximated the date for Nodine's arraignment to be in 30 days. Knizley said today they are having difficulty posting bond and it's unlikely Nodine will be out today.
All day long, concensus from hovering media was that the only surprise from the commissioner would be suicide. Anything else was on the table.
Their supposition also extends to the greater likelihood of Nodine foregoing impeachment now. The danger is that compelled testimony in the civil impeachment could be later used in the murder trial. The only way to avoid that would be to step down.
Fellow commissioner Mike Dean thinks the course should be obvious. "The right thing is for him to do what's best for his constituents," Dean said. "He needs to step down."
The impeachment trial is set to begin June 8.
Around town, in a variety of gatherings and locales, the court of public opinion has reached a verdict on Nodine and it's not good for him.
"I don't care whether he did it or not," a bartender at Gulf City Lodge said." "Even if she did kill herself, he showed no remorse in the things he did afterward. If that's her blood on his car, he left her there to die either way."