Former sports bookie Jack Parker is waiting these days for the cards to be turned up, so to speak, on one of the biggest bets of his life – his appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that could overturn his 2013 federal jury conviction for gambling.
“It’s not a big gamble because I know I’m not guilty of the charge against me,” said Parker, 73, an ex-Marine who is spending much of his time with his 8-year-old grandson, helping him with school and in youth league baseball.
In December 2013, after a jury found Parker guilty of running an illegal Midlands gambling operation, Judge Cameron McGowan Currie sentenced him to five months in prison. That’s not a long sentence compared with many in federal court, but longer than Parker wants to spend away from his grandson.
He doesn’t deny he was taking bets on sports games. After all, he said, gambling is part of the fabric of the state’s culture. But he didn’t work in a large group, he said.
“I’m guilty of bookmaking, but not with five people,” Parker said. To make a gambling case under federal law, the government had to prove Parker was part of a sports betting ring that had five or more active participants.
Parker’s lawyer, Josh Kendrick, argued his case two months ago before the 4th Circuit Court in Virginia. Now, they’re awaiting a decision that could overturn the jury verdict.
Apart from the guilt or innocence issue, Parker said a main reason he feels lucky about the appeal is that Kendrick raised a key legal issue: that prosecutors withheld crucial evidence during the trial about a prosecution witness who testified about the possible fifth person in the gambling ring.
That prosecution witness was Ben Staples, whose testimony, more than any evidence, linked Jack Parker’s daughter-in-law, Tammy Parker, now deceased, to being one of the five key members of Parker’s gambling ring.
At the time Staples testified about Tammy Parker, defense attorneys were unaware Staples was being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Columbia U.S. Attorney’s office for allegedly defrauding elderly terminally ill people of $6.5 million.
Thus, Staples’ testimony putting Tammy Parker as an active member of the gambling ring was crucial, Kendrick argued.
Prosecutors failed to reveal the Staples’ investigation to defense attorneys, so they were unable to cross-examine him on those allegations. In the criminal justice system, prosecutors have to turn over all information to the defense that might have a bearing on their client’s innocence. Otherwise, defendants can’t have a fair trial, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.
In arguments before the 4th Circuit three-judge panel, judges grilled assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson from the Columbia office about Staples and prosecutors’ actions in the case.
“Mr. Richardson, your office knew he was being investigated for fraud on the elderly, which is like throwing a match on gasoline, and yet your office elected to do nothing about it,” Judge Barbara Keenan, one of the judges, told Richardson, according to a tape of the hearing available on the 4th Circuit website.
Richardson replied, “We certainly wish that we had.”
Keenan said, “That doesn’t help you a whole lot, does it?”
Richardson told the judge the prosecution established that people other than Tammy Parker could have been part of the five-person gambling ring. So, he said, the jury could have found that at least one of those other people was the fifth person in the gambling ring. And he said that Staples had “limited evidentiary import.”
But Richardson’s argument didn’t impress Keenan.
“What bothers me is the integrity of the system. There’s really no way to justify what your office did,” Keenan said.
Kendrick bore down on the judges’ attention to the prosecution withholding evidence from the defense.
“This is the case to set the standard in the 4th Circuit to say, ‘We will not tolerate under any circumstances this,’” Kendrick told the judges.
For years, Jack Parker was a well-known sports bookie in the Columbia area, running an operation in which hundreds of people, many of them prominent, placed bets on football and other sports. Some years ago, he passed a chunk of his gambling business down to his son, Brett Parker, who lived in the Irmo-Dutch Fork area.
But in 2012, Brett Parker, plagued by gambling debts, killed his wife Tammy and his close friend and gambling clerk, Bryan Capnerhurst. The murders were part of a scheme Brett Parker concocted. He killed his wife, then killed Capnerhurst, then told investigators that Capnerhurst killed his wife and that he then killed Capnerhurst in self-defense. He planned to collect his wife’s insurance to pay off gambling debts.
But a Richland County jury found Brett Parker guilty of both murders. He is now in prison serving two life sentences without parole. These days, Jack Parker is focusing on family, especially his grandson. He and his wife are raising Brett and Tammy’s son and teenage daughter.
“He’s a good little old ball player for only 8 years old, soon to be 9,” Parker said.
“I’ve already told him about I might have to go away for five months,” Parker said. “That was a month ago. But yesterday, as we were going to get something to eat, he said, ‘Do you have to go away?’ I said, “No – why.’ He said, ‘My life is a mess. My daddy’s in jail, my mommy’s dead, and now you might be going away.’”
Parker is amazed that the boy was carrying that around with him. “I told him, ‘I’m still thinking I won’t have to go.’ And that was about the end of the conversation. But I know that’s in the back of his mind. I have my wife there, but he clings to me.”
At Jack Parker’s trial, prosecutors said the people in his gambling operation were Jack Parker, Brett Parker, Doug Taylor, Tammy Parker, Bryan Capnerhurst and other participants who took what are called “layoff bets.” But the defense argued that the layoff bet participants weren’t full-fledged actors in the gambling ring.
In addition to the five-month prison sentence, Jack Parker also agreed to forfeit a $67,300 certificate of deposit account in exchange for keeping his Lake Murray home.