Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

November 27, 2012

Motions fly in sheriff’s federal case

GLASGOW — Prosecutors and defense counsel in Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton’s federal deprivation of rights case have continued their arguments in court documents as to whether Eaton’s expert witnesses should be allowed to testify at trial.

Eaton and deputies Aaron Bennett and Eric Guffey face trial in United States District Court in the Western District of Kentucky for allegedly beating an arrestee once he was in handcuffs, and then lying to federal investigators about it. The incident occurred on Feb. 24, 2010, when Billy Randall Stinnett led law enforcement on a two-county car chase driving a rented van that housed a mobile methamphetamine lab. Eaton, Bennett, Guffey and deputy Joseph Adam Minor were indicted in February 2012. Minor has pleaded guilty. Eaton, Bennett and Guffey await trial on various charges of deprivation of rights under color of law, aiding and abetting, witness tampering, falsification of a document, false statements and destruction of record, document, tangible object.

In response to a motion filed by the government on Nov. 6 and subsequent response motions by Bennett and Guffey’s defense attorneys, J. Guthrie True, counsel for Eaton, filed a motion on Nov. 20 to counter the government’s argument that Eaton’s expert witnesses should be limited or prohibited from testifying at trial.

According to the prosecution, True did not file enough information regarding the testimony planned by his expert witnesses, Dr. George Nichols, former Kentucky Chief Medical Examiner; Alex Payne, former Kentucky State Police Officer and use of force expert; and Robert Miller, former KSP officer and an accident reconstruction specialist.

Eaton’s defense filed his expert witness disclosure on Aug. 1, according to court documents. On Aug. 30, the prosecution contacted True requesting a list of all evidence the experts reviewed and any reports the experts had compiled. True responded to the prosecution’s inquiry on Oct. 3, explaining that each expert had reviewed every photograph, medical record and witness statement, and they had not provided a report to True nor did True think a report was necessary to provide the government. True reported to the prosecution that he felt he had provided enough information regarding the experts’ testimonies to satisfy legal requirements, and he has maintained that argument throughout the government’s motions to the contrary.

“We feel like our disclosure is adequate,” True said by phone on Monday.

The prosecution argued that Nichols’ summary did not address the reasons behind his opinions. In his Nov. 20 motion, True wrote that Nichols’ reasons are clear, that the evidence doesn’t match the accounts of the “the government’s so-called ‘eyewitnesses.’”

Payne will testify as to whether the evidence shown on Stinnett’s body in photographs and medical records matches what law enforcement would deem appropriate force. The prosecution has argued that Payne does not have the medical training necessary to interpret medical charts and injuries, but True has stated that Payne’s training in use of force and specifically the asp baton, which was used in the Feb. 24, 2010 arrest, makes him qualified to address whether the asp baton was used appropriately by law enforcement training standards. Payne’s opinions will be “well within the scope of his expertise,” True wrote, but the prosecution disagreed.

“An expert simply telling the jury that in his opinion the force used in a particular case was ‘appropriate’ is the same as telling the jury what verdict it should reach,” the prosecution’s Nov. 23 response to True’s motion stated.

The prosecution’s third argument stated that the defense provided no summary of Miller’s opinion, and therefore Miller should be barred from testifying at trial. However, True said he went beyond a summary and provided the prosecution with all of the exhibits Miller prepared for the trial with accident reconstruction technology.

“It is difficult to fathom a more complete disclosure than the raw data utilized by Mr. Miller,” True wrote.

While the continued motions and delayed charges filed by the prosecution have caused the trial to be delayed from Dec. 3, until April 29, 2013, True said he remains confident that his expert testimonies will be allowed and the defense’s case will be strong.

“I feel fairly confident the judge will not preclude us from calling any of our expert witnesses,” True said Monday in a telephone interview.

In his Nov. 20 motion, True included a complaint that he previously filed with the prosecution. After the expert witness disclosure was filed on Aug. 1 and the government requested more information on Aug. 30, True said the investigating FBI agent, Mike Brown, contacted both Nichols and Payne with requests for interviews. True was not informed by Brown that he would contact the experts, and True called the conduct “completely inappropriate.”

“In approximately 28 years of practicing criminal cases in federal court, I have never experienced a circumstance where a prosecutor directed or allowed an FBI agent to attempt to conduct an interview of defense expert witnesses, particularly without contacting the defense counsel to see if some agreement concerning expert witness interviews could be arranged,” True wrote to the prosecution on Oct. 3.

There have been past cases True was involved in that included meetings with expert witnesses where both counsel were present, True said, but he has never had an investigator attempt to meet with a defense witness without giving the attorney any knowledge of the contact.

“That’s a first for me, for an FBI agent to call up and try to have a meeting with my experts,” True said Monday.

True has a number of concerns about the way the investigation has been conducted, he said, but he expects those concerns to come to light during trial.

In the end, the decision is left in the hand of the judge, True said. The defense will abide by what the judge orders.

An arraignment previously on the court docket for Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 10 a.m. has been removed. The arraignment is expected to occur as part of a 1 p.m. hearing now scheduled for Dec. 3 in Bowling Green, True said.

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