Prosecutors try to prove case in Eversole corruption trial

March 9, 2011 4:47:10 PM PST
Testimony continued Tuesday in the corruption trial of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole. He's accused of accepting bribes from developer and friend Michael Surface in exchange for county contracts. As they start laying out their case, prosecutors are trying to get into the dark corners of a very close, very long-standing friendship. They're really looking at the difference between bribery and generosity, and the best answer for that is likely inside the recipient's mind. But the recipient is Jerry Eversole, and we're not likely to hear from him at all.

Jerry Eversole's always polite, but he never says anything about the case against him on the way to court. And he likely won't say a thing inside the courtroom either. But to prove he took bribes from a friend and businessman, the jury has to get inside Commissioner Eversole's head -- and that's not easy.

KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy said, "They don't have a cooperating witness. They can't call Eversole. They can't call Surface and they haven't got anybody else on the inside to cooperate to testify against Eversole."

Eversole's defense will likely be that he travelled and exchanged gifts with developer Mike Surface as part of a decades-long friendship and nothing else. The government will clearly try to show there was more.

A 13 Undercover investigation exposed two years ago that Surface was lining up a winning hand allegedly with insider knowledge, connections and friendships.

"If Eversole is convicted, it sets a stamp on how government should be operated here, and things are going to have to change," Androphy said.

So far, two days in, the case is exposing a county system heavy on personal relationships. Prosecutors have shown that Surface wined and dined key county employees and hired others away from government.

But just as they were building momentum on that front, the government's own witness confessed she saw nothing wrong with the way Surface won contracts. Prosecutors are just starting their case, and what we've heard so far is likely only the foundation.

Androphy said, "The only way you get into his head -- by documents. You're not going to get witness testimony. You're not going to get other commissioners to testify against him. Obviously there are no staff people that overheard conversations, otherwise those people would be on the stand already. You have to play it with documents."

Jurors are sort of being put on the roof of the county administration building as prosecutors peel back that roof and give them a peek inside at how county government works.