JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown spent a few hours passing out free ice cream in Hemming Park before heading over to Federal Court Wednesday afternoon. It was likely the final pretrial hearing in the high profile corruption case against Brown, set to begin in April 26.
"I'm ready," she told reporters after court. "I want this to be behind me. A chapter in my life, this needs to be over."
The 12-term congresswoman could face a prison sentence of up to 357 years if convicted of all the charges prosecutors have brought, including conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and tax evasion. According to a federal indictment, she and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons solicited over $800,000 in donations to a "supposed charitable organization" and used that organization as a "personal slush fund."
Simmons pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft in February.
Judge Timothy Corrigan handled several housekeeping matters at Wednesday's hearing, including cautioning the players not to speak publicly about the case once the trial was underway. He also asked Brown's attorney if he still planned to call as many as 10 members of Congress as witnesses, as he'd previously indicated. Attorney James Smith said he does not plan to call more than two.
Smith said after court that Brown will also testify. "This is an attack on her integrity. If you look at the charges, essentially what they are saying is that she's a liar and a thief. ... She knows a jury wants an opportunity to look at her in the eye, and hear her say she didn't do these things."
Brown herself said she wanted to testify. "I feel that I can tell my story better than anyone can. And I have a story to tell. You know, I'm not guilty, and I feel like the truth is what we need."
The former congresswoman was defeated by Al Lawson for the District 5 seat in the primary in August. She said today's ice cream giveaway was a 'thank you' to all of her supporters who were there for her and had prayed for her.
Prosecutor Tysen Duva took some time outlining some of his witness list, which will include a representative for One Door for Education, cooperating defendants, Brown's tax preparer, and agents for both the FBI agent and IRS.
The trial is expected to last about 15 days: an estimated 6-8 days for the prosecution, and 5 for the defense, along with two days of jury selection, which will begin April 24. Duva said a 60-person jury pool should be sufficient to select 12 jurors. He said it was unlikely that more than half would have heard of the congresswoman, and noted jury selection pulls from more than just Duval County.
"I would say maybe a third, or half have heard of Congresswoman Corrine Brown, but that's about it," said Duva.