Update March 16, 3:14 p.m.: The transcripts for Guy Tunnell’s, Judy Tinder’s, and Jack Prescott’s examinations and closing statements have been attached to this article.

Editor’s Note: We have updated this story with new information.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WMBB) — The fate of a prominent local businessman is now in the hands of a jury…and they are making him wait for their answer.

The jury in the James Finch federal bribery case asked Judge Mark Walker for transcripts from the trial and said they planned to break for the evening and continue their deliberations Thursday morning. 

However, they almost did not need to go to the effort as Walker said he nearly threw the government’s case out altogether. Walker was responding to a motion from the defense that argued that prosecutors did not meet the burden required to go forward. 

Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, is accused of bribing Antonius Barnes, a former Lynn Haven City Commissioner, with $45,000 in checks. Barnes and Finch said the money was a loan to help Barnes with his insurance business. 

Walker said the evidence in the case showed that Lynn Haven projects were vetted by city staff and that the low bidder usually got the contract. He also said Barnes approved Finch projects for years and long before he allegedly started receiving checks from Finch. Finally, the votes on the projects were always unanimous. 

Bribing Barnes, “doesn’t seem to be necessary,” Walker said. Walker also took issue with testimony about Finch’s dealings with Joel Schubert, the former city manager in Lynn Haven. 

If Finch was trying to gain influence over Schubert, Walker asked, why did he try to sell him a home at a price that was $100,000 above market value? However, despite his concerns, Walker said the case, “barely survives” the defense motion. 

Now the jury will seek to make a decision on the case. Jurors asked Walker for transcripts of Barnes’s testimony and the testimony of Mike White, the former city manager in Lynn Haven. They also asked for transcripts from Barnes’s plea hearing when he plead guilty to lying on a bank form. 

Prosecutors and the defense said the jurors must decide the case based on the testimony of both men. Defense Attorney Guy Lewis urged the jury to dismiss White because of his demeanor on the stand, his alcoholism, and his bipolar disorder. 

Instead, they should turn to Barnes, who testified that although he took money from Finch and never paid it back it was not a bribe. Barnes testified that the money was a business loan and that rather than go to a bank he went to his old friend — Finch. 

Prosecutors said Barnes was reversing himself after previously pleading guilty and telling Judge Walker that he was bribed by Finch.  Prosecutor Justin Keen called Barnes’s testimony at trial, “a lot different than what he told the judge in his plea.”

Jurors will get Barnes’s statement of facts to review but they will not be allowed to review the transcript of his plea hearing as it was not entered into evidence. 

As for White, Lewis spent the majority of his closing statement urging jurors to dismiss his testimony. White is the glue that holds the prosecution’s case together and without him, jurors must vote not guilty, Lewis said. 

White testified Tuesday that Finch told him Barnes would vote his way on an upcoming project. White says Finch claimed Barnes wanted more money and would “dance for him,” if he wanted. 

“If you believe Michael White then go back there and write guilty,” Lewis said.

Lewis also suggested that White only testified the way he did because federal prosecutors will play a role in his prison sentence. The entire case is “laughable,” Lewis said. 

However, prosecutors said there was one key fact jurors should consider when evaluating White’s statement about Finch. When he told the FBI about Finch allegedly paying Barnes he had no way of knowing that Finch actually had paid Barnes money. 

He did not know, prosecutors said, that Finch’s checks to Barnes would show up when investigators examined bank records. 

After two days of trial and several years of arguments Finch and his defense team finally got the chance to present their side of the case Wednesday morning. 

They called several prominent business leaders, including the former sheriff of Bay County.

Charlie Commander, a real estate businessman, Jack Prescott, the former general manager of the Panama City paper mill, and Guy Tunnell, Bay County’s former sheriff, a former Bay County Commissioner, and the former head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and others called Finch a man of integrity who gave back to his community and was always honest and trustworthy in his business dealings. 

“I think he’s above reproach,” Tunnell said. 

However, prosecutors noted that Tunnell’s son had close ties with Finch. They asked Tunnell if he knew that Finch had loaned Tunnell’s son $465,000 in connection to a garbage company. Tunnell said he did not have any connection or much knowledge about his son’s business. 

Prosecutors also asked Tunnell if while he was a sitting city commissioner he would have ever taken a loan from Finch. Tunnell, who said he did not know much about the current case, said he would not do that. 

Tunnell added that he had, “no cause to investigate him (Finch) over the years I was in office.” 

Finch is, “a crucial part of our community,” Tunnell said. 

Ronald Sharpe, the Director of ARC of the Bay agreed. He said that Finch was very generous with his agency which provides services to disabled adults. Finch has given the non-profit more than a million dollars, helped them get grants and loans, and even paid off a $265,000 mortgage for the group. 

“He’s a tough businessman but he is a caring businessman,” Sharpe said. 

Judy Tinder, a former Lynn Haven city commissioner and current candidate for mayor also testified for Finch. She noted that he donated nearly $40,000 for fireworks to the city and that he often donated to city parks and helped the city in other ways. Similar to how previous witnesses recalled that Finch had been named Lynn Haven Citizen of the Year multiple times Tinder told the jury that a city-owned splash pad was named after him. 

Lewis asked Tinder if she could recall that Barnes, the man Finch allegedly bribed, had voted against the splash pad. She said she did not remember that but was curious to know the answer. 

Prescott’s support of Finch was so strong that he occasionally had to be stopped from speaking. 

“Having that man charged with what he’s charged with …” Prescott said. He was stopped by Walker before he could give his opinion about the merits of the case.

Finch is “one of the most intelligent people I ever met,” Prescott said. And he’s, “Street smart beyond anybody I know.” 

Another witness, Eddie Mercer, testified that he had known Finch for decades and that they were friends, and that he had borrowed money from Finch in the past. Mercer said the money was borrowed through a handshake deal and that he paid it back. When asked Mercer said he was not a city commissioner when he borrowed the money. 

“I think James is the most honest man I’ve ever met,” Mercer said. “He’s the most generous man I’ve ever met.” 

The jury will return Thursday morning to continue their deliberations. 

You can read the entire transcript below: