The Jinwrights' marathon sentencing hearing, finally over

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Anthony and Harriet Jinwright's federal tax evasion trial, initially anticipated to last two weeks, lasted more than a month. So, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that their sentencing, which was originally anticipated to only take a couple hours, consumed nearly 24 hours of the court's time this week (over the course of two days).

The couple was sentenced after 10 p.m. last night (Note: the hearing began at 8:30 a.m. with a long mid-day break.), but without the emotional outbursts and dramatic courthouse exit their guilty verdict elicited.

Both defendants had an opportunity to speak to the court before their sentencing. Anthony, dressed not in one of his usual custom tailored suits but in a bright orange Mecklenburg County Jail jumpsuit and leg shackles, said he hoped to be freed so he could travel the country teaching other ministers about the importance of hiring qualified bookkeepers, tax preparers and taking personal time to review their financial matters themselves. The judge didn't buy it, though, pointing out that, on the stand, he claimed his financial and tax advisers lied to him for years and during their own testimony.

Harriet, dressed in a long gray skirt and gray sweater set, offered a more poignant testimony. She said she spent the seven months since her guilty verdict thinking about her legacy to her only child and any future grandchildren, as well as counseling those already incarcerated and thinking about what her own jail time would be like. She told the judge there was no need to make an example out of her because she thought the message to the community was already clear. One of Anthony's attorney's, Ed Hinson, said that after seven months in county lockup, he'd gotten the IRS' point loud and clear.

Both asked for mercy from the court.

Again, however, the judge, who admitted he was more moved by Harriet's plea, said the fact that the couple understands the importance of paying their taxes now doesn't negate the fact that, for at least a decade, they conspired to defraud the government.

Before Judge Frank Whitney handed down the sentences — nearly nine years for Anthony and six and a half for Harriet, plus three years probation and restitution to the IRS — he made it clear to the court that the case was about tax evasion ... not religion, race, "individual gifts by loving people" or the complexities of the tax code.

While Anthony has been in custody since the May verdict, Harriet won't have to report to prison until April 2011 because of an already-scheduled knee replacement surgery.

For those who weren't in attendance, the reason why the sentencing took so long was because the lawyers and the judge had to hammer out the couple's sentencing guidelines, which included a ruling that Anthony Jinwright perjured himself on the stand during his three-day testimony during the trial.

During the proceedings, the attorneys and the judge talked about how difficult it is to bring a tax evasion trial to court, explaining that tax fraud is often difficult to detect and that the IRS has a limited ability to prosecute offenders — one reason why it often goes after high-dollar and high-profile cases. By their own admission, the federal government intends to send a message to the greater community with these cases, especially since they are unable to try every instance of tax fraud.

So, here's my question to you: Did you get the message?

The Jinwright's case is complex, but interesting. For gavel-to-gavel coverage, visit Qcitymetro.com.

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations, including Qcitymetro.com. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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