|Emotional sentencing hearing for convicted attorney Max Speight |
|It was a display of emotion that will reverberate in the minds and hearts of those who stood behind him throughout it all. |
After spending most of his life in the Dresden community, making friends, sharing with family members and earning respect throughout Weakley County and the surrounding area, attorney H. Max Speight will now face the next eight years of his life in a prison cell on felony theft convictions.
“This is the saddest day ever. This county has lost one of the finest men there ever was,” Stan Edwards of Martin said after the judge rendered his decision to sentence Speight.
Speight was accused in November 2006 of stealing more than $1 million from several Weakley County clients who utilized his legal services. He was arrested Nov. 27, 2006, and charged with five counts of theft of property over $60,000; three counts of theft over $10,000 and several worthless check violations. The Dresden native pled guilty to the eight theft charges in January of this year.
After hearing 2 1/2 hours of testimony during Speight’s sentencing hearing Friday morning in Weakley County Court, Judge Allen Walsh determined the former real estate attorney’s sentence to be non-mitigating. Instead of serving 20 percent of an eight-year prison sentence before he is eligible for parole, Speight was ordered to serve 30 percent of that sentence as a Range One offender. He will be eligible for parole in 2 1/2 years.
Speight’s attorney, Al Harvey of Memphis, offered 10 factors for what he considered “mitigating” to persuade the judge to lessen the length of Speight’s sentence.
“This is not a violent crime. He has no prior charges. He has good standing in the community from several religious colleagues and friends,” Harvey argued. “You have to look at the work ethic of the person. He was very involved and provided a community service to not only his profession, but his church as well.
“His remorse, he has admitted guilt. His intention is to make up every penny in restitution and has already paid out $356,000. You also have to consider his other punishments. His accounts have been frozen; his law license has been revoked. He has lost his reputation and his integrity. We consider his age and his health to be other mitigating factors. He is 64 years old and has high blood pressure, diabetes and glaucoma. And I want you to consider his capability for rehabilitation. I believe he can come back and achieve restitution.”
District Attorney General Pro Tempore Joseph Baugh of Franklin represented the state in the case.
“We allege Speight was the leader and there were others involved,” he said. “There was clearly more than one victim in this case. This is a substantial amount of money and Speight has used his professional license to abuse the system and he broke the trust of his clients. The state is very concerned about the victims’ getting restitution from this case.”
During Speight’s sentencing hearing on Friday, the state argued that he knew he was not to place his clients’ money into accounts other than 1030c designated real estate accounts. Speight was allegedly a partner in a biodiesel venture in Mississippi that eventually went bankrupt. Baugh accused Speight of placing his clients’ money into the venture without their consent or knowledge.
Those testifying on Speight’s behalf as a respected citizen of the community and legal profession included Charles McWherter, a Martin attorney; Bruce Conley, a Union City attorney; and Weakley County Commissioner James Westbrook.
Long-time veterinarian Dr. Bob Page announced during the hearing he was willing to hire Speight as a chief executive officer in charge of financial aspects of all of his (Page’s) business ventures as soon as he is released from prison.
In the end, Wallace determined Speight’s sentence to be non-mitigating.
“This is a very difficult case for everyone involved,” Wallace explained in court. “We have a lot of people out there who are victims of crime. A man goes to prison and his neighbors and family become victims.
“He was in a position of trust in a very noble profession, which is highly thought of in the community. This was a sacred trust he should have protected and he didn’t do that.”
Speight was taken into custody immediately following the sentencing hearing. Well-wishers, friends and family members offered sympathy and sorrow as they left the courtroom.