Family, friends lead vigil for convicted Cape man

Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Jim Matthews, pastor of the Cape County Cowboy Church, led a prayer vigil for Greg Sparkman at Cape Girardeau County Park North Monday night. (Fred Lynch)

Family and friends used prayers Monday evening to show their support for a Cape Girardeau auto dealer convicted of arson and mail fraud in federal court.

About 125 people attended a short prayer vigil at Cape County Park for Gregory A. Sparkman, who faces a minimum of 15 years in federal prison.

"This is humble and from the heart from people who know and support Greg," said his wife, Lisa Sparkman, shortly before the vigil began.

Sparkman was convicted Oct. 14 on 15 felony counts. The government charged that in December 2000 he torched two vehicles and an office belonging to West Park Motors Inc. The mail fraud charges were based on the insurance checks sent out to cover the dealership's losses.

He was taken into custody just minutes after an all-female jury returned its verdict. Sparkman is currently being held in the Pemiscot County Jail.

The vigil Monday included a prayer that U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey grant bond to release Sparkman prior to his sentencing on Jan. 24.

"Even where it doesn't look like there is a way for a bond to be given, we ask that it be done," the Rev. Jim Matthews of the Cape County Cowboy Church, said as he led the prayers.

Since the trial ended, Sparkman has hired a new attorney, Richard H. Sindel of St. Louis. Sindel has an extensive background in criminal appeals cases.

To win bond, Sparkman would have to show "a substantial likelihood that a motion for acquittal or new trial will be granted," said Michael Price, the assistant U.S. attorney who tried the case. Sindel would also have to show that Sparkman is not a flight risk or a danger to the community, Price said.

The government would oppose any attempt by Sparkman to win release on bond, Price said.

No motion for bond has been filed, Price said.

Sparkman faces a minimum of 15 years in prison. He could receive as much as much as 95 years if Autrey imposes a maximum sentence and orders them to run consecutively.

There was no identified suspect in the arson investigation until Scott Smith, a former employee of Sparkman's, told federal investigators that he accompanied Sparkman on the night the vehicles and car dealership were set ablaze. Smith, who is serving a federal sentence for manufacturing methamphetamine, won a reduced prison term for his testimony and will be released Dec. 1.

Sparkman admitted he was with Smith on the night of the fires, but claims the two were in Smith's home workshop painting a steel banister for Sparkman's home.

In addition to West Park Motors, Sparkman is owner of Sparkman Auto Sales Inc. and, with his wife operates Circle S Saddle Co. in Gordonville.

The prayer vigil coincided with a campaign to generate letters on Sparkman's behalf.

"A big part of the letter-writing campaign is that we want the judge to see what a part of the community he is," Lisa Sparkman said. "He just needs to get out and take care of business. I need him home to take care of the family."

335-6611, extension 126

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