Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mobile Mansion is at the Heart of a Peculiar Alabama Prosecution

The strange federal prosecution of noted Alabama outdoorsman Edmond H. "Eddie" Smith seems to have its genesis in the disputed ownership of one of Mobile's most storied pieces of property.

The Sonneborn House on Fowl River was built by the man who is credited with turning McDonald's hamburgers into a national brand. Eddie Smith came to live in the Sonneborn House in late 2005, and Smith says that is why he now finds himself in the Mobile County Jail on federal ammunition charges that state documents indicate he did not commit.

Smith says several individuals in Mobile want to turn the Sonneborn property into a commercial and residential development, and that's why they wanted Smith out of the house and into a jail cell.

How did Smith come to reside at the Sonneborn House? The house went up for sale in 2005, and a complicated set of circumstances ensued, capped off by what the Mobile Press-Register called a "closing from hell."

Ownership of the house wound up in dispute. The Press-Register says a Mobile man named Evan Wolfe owns the property. Smith says it belongs to a nonprofit organization he started called the Great Southern Outdoors Foundation and Institute.

This is undisputed: Smith was living in the house when law-enforcement officials arrived with a search warrant and found ammunition in the home. Smith was charged under a federal statute that requires a felony conviction in an underlying case.

But a certified copy of a document from the Alabama Judicial Data Center in Mobile County--titled "Transcript of Record: Conviction Report"--shows that Smith pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in the predicate case. Based on that, he should not have been prosecuted for, much less found guilty on, the federal charges.

Does Smith have a point when he says he was arrested and prosecuted in order to get him out of the Sonneborn house?

Sure looks like it from here.

(To be continued)

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