Shackled prisoner Cliff Kirkland asks judge to set him free or give him new sex crimes trial

·3 min read

Fredrick Cliff Kirkland was back in court as a convicted sex offender in July, this time in a last-ditch appeal to get a judge to overturn his conviction for molesting three minor girls or grant him a new trial.

The much thinner former Biloxi city official, public relations guru and longtime journalist had his hands and legs shackled as deputies escorted the 69-year-old in a red and white jail jumpsuit to the defense table in Biloxi Circuit Court.

Kirkland sat next to his defense attorney, Keith Pisarich, who argued that the testimony and evidence at Kirkland’s trial “were legally insufficient as a matter of law” to support Kirkland’s conviction on nine counts of touching a child for lustful purposes.

Kirkland is serving a 35-year prison sentence for the crimes. As a convicted sex offender, Kirkland is not eligible for early release, instead having to do his time day for day.

From 2013 to 2017, Kirkland molested the victims at different times on various occasions on a pull-out couch in his makeshift apartment upstairs at his Thomas Street home.

At the July 25 hearing, Pisarich argued Judge Larry Bourgeois erred when he refused to restrict Harrison County prosecuting attorneys Alison Baker and George Huffman from referring to three minor accusers as victims during the trial, saying the reference seemed to validate the truthfulness of the witness testimony for the jurors.

Cliff Kirkland smiles as his lawyer shows him text messages that are evidence during Kirkland’s trial for allegedly molesting underage girls in Harrison County Circuit Court in Biloxi on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.
Cliff Kirkland smiles as his lawyer shows him text messages that are evidence during Kirkland’s trial for allegedly molesting underage girls in Harrison County Circuit Court in Biloxi on Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

“In some ways,” Pisarich said, “that tells the jury that it’s been predetermined” that the girls are legitimate victims and thus “destroyed the assumption of innocence” for Kirkland at trial.

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Pisarich also argued Bourgeois erred when he refused to sever the cases involving the three minor accusers so that Kirkland could defend himself against the allegations from each accuser separately during three different trials. He also questioned the validity of the victim’s testimony.

Pisarich said what the girls described to jurors at the May trial “seemed like it was straight out of a storybook,” suggesting that the girls had gotten together long before the trial to decide what and how they would describe to authorities and jurors what had happened to them.

A photo of the Blue House, Cliff Kirkland’s residence, is shown on the screen as Biloxi Police Investigator Steven Kelly testifies in the trial of Cliff Kirkland in Harrison County Circuit Court in Biloxi on Monday, May 16, 2022.
A photo of the Blue House, Cliff Kirkland’s residence, is shown on the screen as Biloxi Police Investigator Steven Kelly testifies in the trial of Cliff Kirkland in Harrison County Circuit Court in Biloxi on Monday, May 16, 2022.

Pisarich noted two victims stepped forward after the first girl confided in her cheer coach about the crimes. The cheer coach reported the allegations to Biloxi police, and the first victim told the other two victims she had finally told someone with authority about what Kirkland had done to them.

Prosecutors dismissed the defense’s arguments for a new trial, pointing out that standard jury instructions often mention the word victim and that cases don’t have to be severed for a fair trial.

In this case, Baker said, the crimes occurred in the same time frame in the same “blue house” on Thomas Street in Biloxi that Kirkland owned.

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The judge listened to the arguments for over an hour before promptly denying the request to overturn the convictions or grant Kirkland a new trial.

As deputies led Kirkland out of the courtroom, he looked over toward distraught family members on the front row and mouthed “love you” on his way out.

Dalliance Ross, Kirkland’s daughter, reacts as her father is sentenced to 35 years in prison during a trial for sexual abuse charges in Harrison County Court on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
Dalliance Ross, Kirkland’s daughter, reacts as her father is sentenced to 35 years in prison during a trial for sexual abuse charges in Harrison County Court on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

The defense asked the judge to allow Kirkland to remain housed in the Harrison County jail for at least another month before he is transferred to state prison. The judge granted that request.

His attorney is appealing the conviction to a higher court.

Cliff Kirkland is led away by the Harrison County Sheriffs Department after being found guilty on all charges by the jury during a trial of Kirkland for sexual abuse charges at Harrison County Circuit Court in Biloxi on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Kirkland was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Cliff Kirkland is led away by the Harrison County Sheriffs Department after being found guilty on all charges by the jury during a trial of Kirkland for sexual abuse charges at Harrison County Circuit Court in Biloxi on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Kirkland was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Judge Larry Bourgeois gives Cliff Kirkland his sentence after the jury found him guilty during the trial of Kirkland for sexual abuse charges in Harrison County Court in Biloxi on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
Judge Larry Bourgeois gives Cliff Kirkland his sentence after the jury found him guilty during the trial of Kirkland for sexual abuse charges in Harrison County Court in Biloxi on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.