CONYERS -- A jury heard evidence Tuesday in a divorce case involving Rockdale County sheriff candidate Donald Ferguson, including allegations that he conned a woman into marrying him for political gain and strategy.
Ferguson was the defeated 2008 candidate for sheriff and has announced he will run for the office again in 2012.
Rockdale County Superior Court Judge David Irwin heard the civil case in which Ferguson, 52, filed for divorce from Eronnika Renai Ferguson after about five months of marriage. Covington-based attorney Eugene Butt represented Mr. Ferguson.
Local attorney Michael Waldrop defended Mrs. Ferguson and presented claims in the divorce settlement. She asked for reimbursement for mental cruelty, debts incurred from the sudden separation, alimony in the amount of $1,000 per month for five years, and other standard conditions in divorces.
According to evidence and testimony Tuesday, the couple met through a mutual friend in July 2008, just after the primary elections. Donald Ferguson proposed marriage in October 2008, and they were married February 2009. Donald Ferguson filed for divorce in July 2009.
The defense argued that the marriage was a strategic move to make Donald Ferguson appear more favorable and the wife was "used, abused and cast to the side." Namely, the defense pointed to a BMW car and home purchased in Mrs. Ferguson's name and Donald Ferguson's religious conversion from Catholicism to Baptist. Those three acts, which were done before the marriage, were done as a "feather in his political cap," according to Waldrop.
Waldrop told the jury during closing arguments the real issue in the case was deciding whether or not Donald Ferguson's intentions were true. Waldrop reiterated that Donald Ferguson testified that his campaign manager told him that it would not look good if he lived with a woman to whom he was not married.
"I cannot imagine sitting in a courtroom and hearing my spouse testify on a witness stand that the trigger to deciding to become married on a given day was made at the suggestion of some woman on a campaign committee," Waldrop said. "Does that have a feel of legitimacy to it? Is that love or is that campaign strategy?"
Ferguson testified that he sought a divorce because he said his wife was disrespectful to his children and he discovered a medical issue of hers.
Butt pointed out that she was not forced into the home or forced into marriage. Butt contended that Mrs. Ferguson enjoyed being the wife of a political candidate and referenced a letter written by her to Donald Ferguson about a week after she was served the divorce papers.
"If she's saying how much she loves him and how she'll do all these things for him, then how could he have been cruel to her?" Butt asked. "He obviously was a good guy, if she was willing to do all that."
In reference to reimbursements, Butt said that Donald Ferguson is paying "more than his share of debt" as he makes payments on the BMW and the home that is upside down because of the economy. Butt added that Mrs. Ferguson now earns more money than her husband and she did not need alimony.
The court's role Tuesday was to help decide on an equitable division of the assets.
The jury had begun deliberating Tuesday afternoon but had not reached a verdict by press time.