Lyons drops appeal, accepts responsibility

St. Petersburg Times, June 2, 1999
By Stephen Nohlgren

The Rev. Henry J. Lyons has abandoned the last shred of resistance against the criminal charges that landed him in prison and says he wants to take responsibility for his behavior.

Writing from Marion Correctional Institution, the discredited Baptist leader instructed his attorney to drop an appeal of his February conviction on grand theft and racketeering charges.

"This action is being taken in an effort to put an end to the litigation surrounding this case and to accept responsibility for the conduct in question," Clearwater attorney Denis DeVlaming wrote in a notice mailed to the court.

This means Lyons, 57, will continue to serve his 51/2-year sentence on state charges. He also awaits sentencing on federal fraud and tax evasion charges, to which he pleaded guilty in March.

Lyons, the former president of the National Baptist Convention USA, stole money intended for burned-out black churches, a Pinellas jury determined. He also sold phony membership lists to corporations and spent much of that money on luxury cars, jewelry and fancy homes.

In appealing his conviction, Lyons contended that Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer should have excluded evidence about his extramarital affairs. That testimony was prejudicial and not critical, Lyons' attorneys had argued.

The appeal also argued that Schaeffer should have let the jury know that the Loewen Group was suing the U.S. government in federal court. Loewen, an international cemetery company, was one of Lyons' biggest corporate victims. Loewen would have a better chance of winning its lawsuit if Lyons were convicted, the appeal argued.

Friday's filing put the appeal to rest.

"He is going to close this chapter of his life," DeVlaming said. "Instead of protracted litigation, he's going to end it right here."

Schaeffer had little reaction to the news.

"Frankly, I never cared much one way or another if a defendant who lost a case took an appeal. I think the job of a circuit judge is to make decisions as soundly as you can," she said. "I always welcomed the appellate court . . . taking all the time and all the tools they have at their disposal to make sure the decisions are correct."

At trial, Lyons' attorneys had asked for a mistrial after two television stations received e-mail from a "Maxwell Williams" saying he had overheard a juror talking about the case.

When Schaeffer denied the mistrial request, DeVlaming said Lyons might appeal on that issue. On Friday, DeVlaming explained that he needed more information from Williams but couldn't identify the mysterious e-mailer.

"We put an investigator on it, and he couldn't find him." DeVlaming said. "He disappeared into cyberspace."

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