NEW ORLEANS –– More than a dozen family members and friends of former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill crowded into a New Orleans courtroom Tuesday for a hearing appealing his corruption conviction.
Hill, 61, remains in a Kentucky prison after he was convicted in 2009 for shaking down developers for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
His Houston attorney tried to convince the the three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the charges. Seth Kretzer, Hill's court-appointed attorney, argued the evidence is slim showing the former councilman extorted a developer for cash in exchange for Hill's vote to allow housing developments.
"For some reason when Hill voted the exact same way as everyone else did," Kretzer told News 8, "that somehow magically becomes extortion."
He claims the government never proved that the developer, Bill Fisher, was ever a victim of extortion and that Hill's voting record was inconsistent, never indicating he favored one developer over another.
"The victim in this case ... did not have any real fear of extortion," Kretzer said. "You have to believe Hill was extorting Fisher when he voted against his projects. And you also have to believe he was extorting him when he was voting for his projects. It has to be one or the other, right?"
Attorneys for the government pointed to 250 undercover recordings and dozens of witnesses alleging Hill solicited bribes. A jury convicted Hill, his wife Sheila Farrington, and an associate after a three and a half month trial.
"His votes were untethered to anything but his own interest," the government's attorney, Leigha Simonton told the panel.
The appeals court won't make a ruling for several weeks.The decision could also affect Farrington and D’Angelo Lee, Hill’s appointee to the City Plan Commission. They too are serving time in prison.
Hill, who is three years into an 18-year prison term, still inspires loyalty from his followers.
More than a dozen supporters drove nearly nine hours to New Orleans for the one-hour hearing.
"He's a good guy," said Al Johnson, Hill's former barber of 30 years. "When you have good people around you in your life, you do what you have to do to support him."
Shortly before the hearing, the group gathered to pray on the courthouse steps.
"Don Hill had no money! Don Hill never had no money, and Don Hill didn't exhort any money from anybody," said his brother Doug Hill.
Hill's mother, Mary Hill, has been the one keeping the most faith. She speaks to her son every Sunday on the phone and has attended nearly every court hearing. She prays the judges will drop the conviction and free her son.
"I've got patience," the 87-year-old said. "I just hope I have enough time."