In the Crosshairs

Linda Saville leans across the table in a downtown Phoenix restaurant and recites the pledge she made at the moment her brother was acquitted of conspiring to kill Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

"I swore I was not going to let this happen to someone else," she said about that fateful Friday the 13th, when her kid brother was acquitted by a jury and released three days later from the Maricopa County Jail after spending four years behind bars.

"He was set up," she says, recalling that day last June.

James Saville was 18 years old when he was arrested on July 9, 1999, by undercover sheriff's deputies and charged with plotting to kill Arpaio with a bomb.

A self-described pyromaniac with prior felony convictions, Saville was slapped with a $1 million bond and no hope of getting out of jail before his trial.

Poor and confused, Saville was the perfect stooge for yet another Joe Arpaio publicity stunt.

That Saville was railroaded was incidental to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, where stroking Sheriff Joe Arpaio's publicity furnace comes well ahead of law enforcement.

All that mattered to Arpaio and his media czarina, Lisa Allen MacPherson, was that Saville's arrest led the evening television news and was page-one material in the county's daily newspapers.

And they got what they wanted: Images of gun-wielding deputies swooping into a parking lot and taking a bewildered and unarmed Saville into custody filled the airwaves.

News anchors gushed how they were thankful that Saville's despicable plot had been foiled by vigilant deputies and that the brave Arpaio had averted yet another serious attempt on his life.

"Well, we took this guy off the street," Arpaio bragged in his best John Wayne inflection to a television news station after going home to "comfort" his wife in the wake of the alleged foiled assassination attempt. "He's back in prison, where he belongs."

This is where Arpaio wished the Saville newsreel had ended.

But there's more.

Saville didn't deserve to be locked up in Arpaio's dungeon.

He was innocent.

Four years after his televised arrest, a Maricopa County Superior Court jury ruled that Arpaio's detectives had entrapped Saville.

Entrapment defenses rarely succeed because they are exceedingly difficult to prove. James Saville's attorney, Ulises Ferragut, had to prove that the idea of killing the sheriff had started with law enforcement, that deputies or their agents urged Saville to commit the crime and that Saville was not predisposed to do it.

Ferragut proved all three elements, and James Saville walked out of Arpaio's jail a free man. After the trial, jurors told Ferragut they were convinced that Saville had been a pawn in an elaborate media ploy.

"Arpaio had cameras out there waiting to film the arrest," Ferragut says. "The jurors indicated this was clearly a publicity stunt."

What was good press for Arpaio was a horrific experience for James Saville. He faced up to 22 years in prison if convicted of the trumped-up charges designed to boost Arpaio's popularity. Earlier this month, the Saville family filed a $10 million lawsuit against the county for entrapment and wrongly incarcerating James Saville.

As for Linda Saville, she is not content with just the lawsuit. The 25-year-old single mom wants to run Arpaio -- who in elections past has been the state's most popular politician -- out of office. And she has formed a political action committee called Mothers Against Arpaio, with other victims of Arpaio's tactics, to do just that.

Mothers Against Arpaio has staged protests in front of the county jail, and last week several members pelted Arpaio with questions about jail deaths during a Scottsdale breakfast meeting with political supporters. An angry, red-faced Joe Arpaio refused to answer the mothers of his victims.

The group, which includes about a dozen family members, is compiling detailed information of abuses inside Arpaio's notorious jails and posting victims' names on a Web site. The list includes more than two dozen examples of deaths, beatings and suicides that have occurred inside the county lockups. It also cites several examples of political vendettas carried out by the sheriff's office against Arpaio's critics.

In the past, the group might be easily dismissed as disgruntled family members upset over the treatment of loved ones who rightly landed in jail. But Mothers Against Arpaio has a mountain of facts to back up the legacy of atrocities with which it taunts the sheriff during his frequent public appearances.

What's more, the Mothers group is not alone in launching stinging attacks against Arpaio as the Republican primary approaches on September 7. For the first time in his 12 years as sheriff, Arpaio is getting torpedoed on several fronts, and the attacks are seriously undermining his bid for a fourth term as the county's top lawman.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty