By AMANDA LOVIZA VICKERY
Glasgow Daily Times
BOWLING GREEN —
EDITOR’S NOTE: All charges against the defendants are accusations only, not statements of fact. Evidence presented and statements made by attorneys in closing arguments are left to the jury to determine their value.
The jury was able to get instructions from Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. and listen to closing arguments from civil rights prosecutor Roy Conn III and defense attorney J. Guthrie True Wednesday before court recessed for the afternoon in the federal trial of Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett and Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey. Defense attorneys Buddy Alexander and Brian Butler will present closing arguments and the government will give a rebuttal Thursday before the case is turned over to the jury to decide the fate of the three law enforcement officers alleged to have beaten Billy Randall Stinnett after he was in handcuffs on Feb. 24, 2010.
Roy Conn III
Watching from the windows of Calvary Baptist Church, three teenage girls saw something “to scar their minds,” Conn told the jury. The church witnesses called to the stand at the beginning of the trial may have been young, Conn said, but they were positive of six things on Feb. 24, 2010. They saw a man on the ground, that man was beaten by law enforcement officers, the man’s hands were cuffed during the beating, there was no reason for the beating, all the officers were participating and no officer stopped it.
“Police officers are simply not allowed to beat anyone who is not posing an immediate threat,” Conn said.
Adam Minor, originally indicted with the defendants and now a cooperating witness, has admitted the beating took place and that he and the defendants participated or, in Guffey’s case, allowed it to happen, Conn said. While the defense tries to throw doubt on Minor’s truthfulness, Conn told the jury that Minor’s account is the one that is corroborated by the eye witnesses in the church. Evidence such as Bennett’s broken hand, Stinnett’s head laceration and bruises and the blood at the scene further corroborate the government witnesses’ testimonies. The defense’s medical expert also said Stinnett’s head wound could have been caused by a baton, the prosecutor said.
“The force used was excessive,” Conn said.
The beating was also thoroughly willful, Conn said, as Minor has testified that Eaton told the other officers it was their turn after he hit Stinnett, and officers later laughed about Stinnett’s bruises and Eaton’s alleged fake screaming into the radio.
Just because Stinnett does not remember getting hit in the groin by Eaton after he was “beaten in the head,” Conn said, does not mean it didn’t happen. Minor and Glasgow Police Officer Jessie Barton testified that Eaton hit Stinnett in the groin. And while Trevor Phillips denied it, Minor heard Eaton direct Phillips to delete an incriminating photo, Conn told the jury.
“Apparently, defendant Eaton wasn’t satisfied with the beating that had happened earlier,” Conn said. “He needed to get an extra blow in.”
As each of the defendants worked to create a false cover story to hide their crime, Conn said that Eaton went to extra lengths to tamper with witnesses in regard to Steve Runyon and Minor. He pressured his longtime friend, Runyon, to lie about a knife because he needed that aspect of his cover story, Conn said.
“It shows you that nothing mattered to him except covering up what happened on Feb. 24, 2010,” Conn said.
After he testified at a grand jury, Runyon testified that Eaton called him and said to Runyon that he was going to go to jail, Conn said.
“That comes as close to a confession about what happened on Feb. 24, 2010, outside that church as you’re going to hear,” Conn said.
Conn told the jury to “use your common sense” when considering the validity of the defendants’ stories and the statements they made to the FBI following Stinnett’s arrest. Every time a defendant wrote or stated that no one used excessive force on Stinnett, it was a lie, Conn said.
Guffey further lied when he changed his story about whether he saw blood at the scene and whether he told the FBI he saw blood, Conn said. Those lies were intentional falsehoods about material facts related to a federal investigation, he said, and they demonstrate Guffey’s tendency to mislead investigators.
The defendants not only committed a crime against Stinnett, Conn said, but they also committed a crime that will always stay with the young girls who saw it. The officers would have gotten away with it, he added, if it weren’t for those girls.
“These three defendants swore an oath to uphold the law, but instead they violated the law by beating a handcuffed man while he was down on the ground,” Conn said.
J. Guthrie True
There are a few “unimpeachable” sources of evidence in this trial, True told the jury as he presented his closing argument on behalf of Eaton.
One, the time frame is indisputable, True said. A dispatch log and a photograph’s time stamp put Stinnett being escorted from the arrest scene about a minute after the radio call that Stinnett was fleeing his van on foot.
“Those numbers don’t lie,” True said.
Stinnett’s injuries don’t lie either, and True said Stinnett’s photographed injuries do not demonstrate a beating.
Further, several witnesses have showed evidence that the government has used pressure and intimidation throughout the investigation. Normally, accusing the government of intimidation would be an impeachable issue, True said, but the back-and-forth between Ron Lafferty, whom he called a “walking affidavit,” and Conn both on the witness stand and in the grand jury transcript demonstrated the government’s intimidation tactics.
After looking at the unimpeachable evidence, True said the jury next must analyze Adam Minor. Minor testified that he lied multiple times to investigators, a district court and a Barren County grand jury, True said. The question becomes, he told the jury, “has he lied to you?” Minor’s accounts of pushing Stinnett to the ground, seeing another county employee punch Stinnett in the face and seeing Eaton hit Stinnett in the groin don’t match up with Stinnett’s own account of what happened Feb. 24, 2010. Minor’s account of a conversation between Eaton and Runyon don’t match Runyon’s testimony, True said.
“I submit to you, you can feel comfortable in concluding that Adam Minor has in fact lied to you,” True told the jury.
As people, True told jurors that they would not rely on Minor’s word to make any important decision in their own lives, so they should not rely on Minor when making the most important decision in the defendants’ lives.
True does not believe that the young church witnesses are trying to make things up, he said, but there were two church witnesses, who didn’t testify, who were positive that Bobby McCown was one of the officers beating Stinnett. McCown was indicted on that false information, but it was later proven he was not there. Those children have never seen the violent arrest of a resisting suspect, True said, and they did not understand that a violent altercation could still be a lawful one. The violent strikes that some of the church witnesses testified to, such as an officer hitting Stinnett repeatedly on the shins, were not evidenced in Stinnett’s injuries, True said.
“What they think they saw, they didn’t see,” True said.
The government has said that photographs of blood spatter at the scene corroborate their description of the officers beating Stinnett, True said, but not a single witness has testified that any of the officers had any blood on them. The government’s forensic blood spatter expert said the blood could have been caused by a single hit to the head, True said, and the defense’s medical expert said head lacerations are known to spurt. That injury could have been caused during the vehicle chase and still spurted that much during a struggle, according to George Nichols, True reminded the jury.
Stinnett’s bloody hood and the bloody glove found near the scene could easily mean Stinnett sustained a head injury in the van while he was wearing his hood and a glove to protect his hand while he stirred a methamphetamine lab, True said, and when he exited the van, he pushed his hood back with his gloved hand, getting blood on the glove.
FBI agent David McClelland testified that Eaton’s version of his use of the baton “would have been justified,” True said. Witnesses, including Jessie Barton, also describe Eaton already away from the immediate scene of Stinnett’s arrest within 30 seconds to a minute of the beginning of the foot pursuit. If anyone hit Stinnett after he was handcuffed, True said, Eaton could not have been there to witness it.
The government’s charges against Eaton of false statements rely on the statements actually being false, True said, but several people witnessed Eaton walk up to Stinnett with a knife, as described in the report Eaton allegedly pressured Runyon to falsify, and Eaton’s own report cannot be false if no assault occurred after Stinnett was handcuffed.
“I think the evidence is, there never was an assault on Stinnett once he was cuffed,” True said.
The real tragedy of the case is the doubt it may plant in a police officer’s mind the next time he is faced with a similar situation with a suspect like Billy Randall Stinnett, True said. Citizens and the government cannot second guess actions taken by law enforcement to protect the community, True told the jury.
The government has the burden of proof, True reminded the jury, so the jurors must decide whether an assault occurred, and if that assault occurred after Stinnett was handcuffed. Above all, however, True said that the jury must remember the presumption of innocence.
“If you’re sitting there confused, that’s a reasonable doubt,” True said. “That’s a not-guilty verdict.”