WICHITA — In 39 years of law practice, Steve Joseph has never delayed his opening statement to a jury until after the prosecution has made its entire case.
But he will do that this afternoon in the securities fraud trial of Wild West World founder Thomas Etheredge.
"It's a tactic," said Joseph, who, along with his son, Chris Joseph, is representing Etheredge. "We think it'll give us a tactical advantage."
Rick Fleming, general counsel for the Kansas Securities Commissioner's Office, did give his opening statement this afternoon, which lasted about an hour.
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Fleming used a chart to go over the nine counts against Etheredge. The prosecution isn't accusing Etheredge of stealing money, but it maintains that he either omitted or misrepresented facts to induce investors into giving him money.
The prosecution also is expected to call its first witness this afternoon in the courtroom of Sedgwick County District Judge Ben Burgess.
Court officials finished seating a jury this morning.
For the first time in his courtroom, Burgess will allow jurors to take notes. Burgess told jurors they could use their notes during deliberations, but the notes could not leave the courtroom.
Etheredge is charged with nine counts of misleading private investors as he struggled to raise money from early 2005 through 2007 to complete the Wild West World theme park in Park City.
He opened the park May 5, 2007, and closed it July 9, 2007, filing for bankruptcy the same day. He claims to have spent $24 million on the park over a three-year period. Etheredge blamed rainy weather and construction cost overruns for the park's failure.
Etheredge, who has been held in Sedgwick County Jail on $1 million bond since his April arrest in Texas, faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.