Fire district chief enters not guilty plea — (The Shreveport Times)

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The Shreveport Times

April 4, 2007

By John Hill, jhillbr@gannett.com

BATON ROUGE ­ A Caddo Parish district fire chief pleaded not guilty in federal court in Baton Rouge this afternoon in a murder-for-hire case.

Donovan R. McMullen Jr., chief of Caddo Fire District 3, appeared for less than five minutes in federal court with his two attorneys, Bobby Sutton Sr. and Bobby Sutton Jr., who entered two not guilty pleas in the case.

McMullen, 42, nodded to his wife, Robin, who was sitting in the courtroom. His attorneys said she would have no public comment.

The fire chief faces up to 20 years and a $250,000 fine on each of two counts of trying to arrange the murder of a witness in an ongoing federal grand jury investigation into stolen government property in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

McMullen revealed to Magistrate Docia Dalby that he has been taking Zoloft for anxiety for the past five years but he was not impaired.

The indictment charges McMullen with giving a person identified only as “A.B.,” apparently an FBI undercover officer, a semi-automatic handgun, with the serial number obliterated, in order to kill a witness identified only as “R.A.”

The purpose was to prevent “R.A.” from linking McMullen to the transport of government-owned stolen medical equipment from Baton Rouge to McAllen, Texas, after Katrina. McMullen had worked in southeast Louisiana following the 2005 storms.

The McMullen case has revealed that a federal grand jury investigation into post-Katrina fraud is under way in Baton Rouge, which was the initial federal government headquarters for the response to Katrina.

Sutton said it is unlikely the case will come to trial within the 70 days prescribed by the federal Speedy Trial Act. He said he had not yet received copies of tapes made by the FBI in the case.

Today’s court hearing was officially an arraignment, a proceeding in which the defendant enters a plea. McMullen was wearing West Baton Rouge Parish jail clothes.

In his initial appearance in federal court in Shreveport last month, a federal judge refused to allow bail. U.S. District Court Judge Maurice Hicks called the plot “just short of terrorism” and called McMullen too unpredictable.

At that Shreveport hearing, an FBI agent testified McMullen had admitted when he was arrested that he twice hired a hit man to kill the federal witness.

U.S. Attorney David Dugas of Baton Rouge declined to comment as to whether he thinks the case will go to trial.

“If we indict a case, we are prepared to go to trial,” Dugas said. “I can’t discuss the particulars of a case.”

Dugas said prosecutors presented evidence in Shreveport to show that McMullen should not be allowed out of jail on bail.

“We asked the court to detain him pending trial based on the contention that he is a threat to the safety of witnesses,” Dugas said.