BILOXI, Mississippi — Former Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat, now free from prison, still says he had no part in a murder plot that led to him spending almost 16 years in federal prison.
Halat told WLOX-TV that he had "absolutely nothing" to do with the murders of Harrison County Circuit Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife, Margaret, in 1987.
Sherry and Halat had been law partners starting in 1981. Halat was elected mayor 1989, losing a re-election bid in 1993.
Halat was convicted in 1997 of conspiracy to commit racketeering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
According to court testimony, Halat knew about the murder plot against the Sherrys and failed to notify law enforcement.
"I had nothing to do with that. Absolutely nothing," Halat told WLOX. "If I would have had anything to do with it, if I would have known anything about it, I would have done everything in my power to prevent it."
Halat said his family's support made him able to endure prison, starting with the moments after the July 1997 guilty verdict when he was taken into custody.
"My wife and daughter came back, and the first thing they said was, 'We're going to appeal. Don't worry about it. We're going to take care of everything,'" he remembered. "I remember this because I said, 'You know I'm going to need a rock.' And they said, 'We'll be your rock.'"
"I knew at that point that I was going to be able to make it," Halat said.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Halat's appeals in 2000.
Halat said even if he's never cleared on earth, he's confident God knows the truth.
"If there is a final arbiter, and I truly believe that there is, I have absolutely no doubt when I get up there that Vince and Margaret will be standing next to him, and they will embrace me," he said. "I have no problems with final judgment. Believe me when I tell you that."
The Sherrys were slain in their Biloxi home on Sept. 14, 1987, in a plot involving a lawyer, a Louisiana prisoner and a strip club owner.
In the 1980s, Bobby Joe Fabian, Dixie Mafia kingpin Kirksey McCord Nix Jr. and other inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola began running lonely-hearts telephone scams that mainly targeted homosexual men who sent thousands of dollars, thinking they were helping young men get out of minor scrapes with the law and join them.
Fabian testified that Nix ordered the Sherry slayings because Halat had convinced Nix that Vincent Sherry had stolen some of Nix's proceeds the scam. Fabian estimated the scam may have collected $5 million.
Former Biloxi strip club owner Mike Gillich was the chief prosecution witness when Halat and three others were convicted in 1997.
Gillich, John Ransom, Nix and Nix's girlfriend, Sheri LaRa Sharpe, were convicted in 1991 on a federal conspiracy charge. Gillich was released from prison in July 2000, after serving nine years of a 20-year sentence, and died of cancer in April 2012.
Fabian, who had congestive heart failure and other health problems, died in 2012 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman.
Glen Joseph Cook, a former police officer and strip club owner, was released from prison in 2012. Cook was convicted for helping arrange the 1987 slayings.
Information from: WLOX-TV, http://www.wlox.com