The big news of the week: supporters of Charles Wilhite are celebrating today, after a jury found him not guilty of the 2008 murder of Alberto Rodriguez.
Wilhite and a co-defendant, Angel Hernandez, had been convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death in 2010. But last year, Wilhite was granted a new trial, after a witness who had identified Wilhite recanted his testimony. The case garnered attention around the Valley, with a group, called Justice for Charles, advocating for his release and drawing public attention to the case.
In court, Wilhite’s attorneys worked to raise doubts about the testimony offered against Wilhite; in one particularly damning example, a witness, now in prison for armed robbery, who had said he’d heard Wilhite agree to kill Rodriguez for Hernandez acknowledged, under questioning, that he thought his testimony was his “get out of jail card.”
Prosecutors said witnesses changed their stories out of fear of retaliation and that the case highlights the problem of pursuing cases in a climate where people fear being labeled “snitches.”
Wilhite spent three-and-a-half years in prison for the first conviction.
And the not-so-big news: City Council President Jimmy Ferrera announced his committee assignments—and well, if this is political retribution, we’ve seen a lot worse in City Hall, haven’t we?
Last year, as a first-term president, Ferrera didn’t appoint Ward 7’s Tim Allen (who had tried to launch his own campaign for president) to any committees; Ward 2’s Mike Fenton, who supported Allen, got just one appointment, to a special animal-control committee. So when Ferrera came up for re-election to a second term as president this year, and Fenton and Allen voted “present”—rather that “yay” or “nay”—I wasn’t the only one to expect them to land in the Council doghouse again.
But Ferrera took the high road (and, I should note, continues to maintain that last year’s non-assignment assignments weren’t payback). While he put Fenton on only one committee this year, it’s a rather desirable one: Finance. Allen, meanwhile, was named chairman of one committee—Human Services—and also snagged a spot on Planning and Economic Development. Allen and Fenton were also named to a special committee on employee residency—an issue they’ve been very involved in—with Fenton as the chairman.
Meanwhile, Ward 8’s John Lysak, who had considered challenging Ferrera for the presidency this year but dropped his bid when it became clear he didn’t have enough votes to win, made out pretty well, too, with a seat on the Public Health and Safety Committee, as well as the chairmanship of Government Relations.
Could this be the start of a new era of goodwill and amity on the City Council? Well, let’s not get carried away; tales from behind the scenes suggest that this year’s process wasn’t exactly without drama. Still, Ferrera was smart to distribute the committee assignments more equitably this year—and, in the process, avoid the public backlash that came from last year’s assignments.