The attorney for former Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton has officially requested that Eaton be allowed to remain free while his appeal in federal court is pending.
Eaton was convicted in May of two counts of witness tampering, but acquitted of other charges related to the events surrounding the arrest of Billy Randall Stinnett in February 2010. He and a deputy were accused of unnecessarily assaulting Stinnett, and they and two other deputies, the latter of whom were acquitted, faced charges related to allegedly attempting to hide what happened.
His attorney, J. Guthrie True of Louisville, has pointed out that he can't see how the jurors could convict Eaton of trying to influence others to cover up crimes – such as deprivation of rights under color of law – for which they found him not guilty. A motion had been filed asking for an acquittal on those two charges as well, but that motion was denied.
Eaton was sentenced Aug. 1 to serve 18 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release, but he was allowed to voluntarily report at a later date. According to True's motion filed Monday, Eaton has since been ordered to report to an out-of-state federal correctional institution by Sept. 30.
True filed a notice on Aug. 20 that he plans to appeal the convictions and other aspects of the case to the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. The full appeal argument has not been filed.
The request for Eaton to continue to remain free comes as no surprise, as True had asked the judge about the possibility during the sentencing and was told he could file the request once his notice of appeal was submitted.
True said the matter of Eaton's release while awaiting appeal is “urgent in nature” because he was assigned to a facility several hours from his home and family, “making it virtually impossible for the defendant's wife and children – one of whom is mentally handicapped – to visit with him.”
True's memorandum in support of his motion for release pending appeal points out that the out-of-state assignment is contrary to Chief Judge Joseph McKinley's recommendation that Eaton be assigned to a facility in Kentucky. McKinley presided over the trial in U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky, in Bowling Green and imposed the sentence that was more than what the defense requested but considerably less than what the government prosecutors wanted.
In the memorandum, he argues that release pending appeal is appropriate when there are two criteria present. The first is a “clear and convincing evidence that the person is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community if released.”
True points out that Eaton, who remained as sheriff until his resignation the day before his sentencing, was on pretrial release from the time of his indictment Feb. 15, 2012, through the conclusion of his trial in May, and he is still under the same release conditions. During that time, he was “routinely granted permission to travel outside the judicial district and outside the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” He stated there is “no credible evidence” of his posing a danger, as evident by his having no improper contact with his accusers, and none of them works at the Barren County Sheriff's Office any longer.
The second requirement is that the appeal is “not for the purpose of delay and raises a substantial question of law or fact likely to result in” any one of four things: reversal, an order for a new trial, a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment or a reduced sentence of less than the total of the time served plus the expected duration of the appeals process.
True states in the memorandum that delay is not the purpose and the appeal raises substantial questions. “Even more, the motion satisfies a recognized exception to this statutory requirement,” True states, and he goes on to outline other circumstances in a case that may be considered, such as the outpouring of support from community members, Eaton's record of public service, a home environment with a special need, and the likelihood Eaton would have served his sentence before the appellate decision is rendered.
True states that the Sixth Circuit has held that federal law “'does not require the district court to find that it committed reversible error' to find that the appeal raised a substantial question” or even that the defendant is likely to win on appeal.
The memorandum reiterates issues surrounding the weight of the evidence at trial. For example, “the government's theory” was that Eaton corruptly persuaded two deputies to report that a knife had been found at the scene of Stinnett's arrest, but Eaton never contended there was a knife there. It also points to a “backdrop of lies and deceit by the government's key witnesses,” one of which only got probation for a charge of making a false statement and got the charge relating to the alleged assault dropped in exchange for his testimony and who admitted to lying in a preliminary hearing and to a grand jury.
True points out other concerns, such as the improperness of the prosecutor's comments that Eaton chose not to testify in his own defense, and the cumulative effect of those. He also contends that the sentencing guidelines that were considered were incorrect.
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