Miss. mayor's trial begins this week

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mayor Frank Melton was elected on a

promise to clean up Mississippi's largest city and run thugs and

dealers out of town. He passed out cowboy hats at his first City

Council meeting before hitting the streets wearing guns and a

bulletproof vest.

Three years later, the tough-talking former television executive

is facing felony charges that could send him from City Hall to

prison. He was indicted with two police bodyguards in July on

charges related to the August 2006 sledgehammer destruction of a

duplex apartment the mayor considered a crack house. The trial

begins Wednesday.

Melton hasn't denied leading a group of teenagers and young men

- some with criminal records - to the home or participating in its

destruction. But, he has said, it was a sincere effort to rid a

poor, crime-ridden neighborhood of a haven for illegal drug

distribution and prostitution.

Federal prosecutors call it a "whiskey soaked, arbitrary

exercise of power and violence."

A gag order prevents both sides from discussing the case. The

defendants pleaded not guilty.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)