Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

November 13, 2012

Attorneys for Barren County Sheriff, deputies push to keep expert witnesses

Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Less than a month before facing a federal trial, the Barren County Sheriff and two deputies are fighting for their right to call expert witnesses to their defense.

Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and deputies Aaron Bennett and Eric Guffey have been charged with multiple counts of federal civil rights violations, and are scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 3. The case is the result of allegations that law enforcement officials used excessive force when arresting Billy Randall Stinnett after a car chase in February 2010, then falsified documents and lied to federal investigators about the incident.

Eaton’s attorney, J. Guthrie True, filed with the court a list of three expert witnesses on Aug. 1, in what he considered accordance with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The witnesses included Dr. George Nichols, a former state medical examiner who will offer his opinion that the medical evidence on Stinnett’s body does not match the prosecution’s descriptions of excessive beating; Alex Payne, an expert on the use of force who will testify to his opinion that marks on Stinnett’s body show only an appropriate use of force by law enforcement in the situation; and Robert Miller, a former state police officer and accident reconstructionist who will express his opinions regarding what could have been seen or could have occurred given the space and dimensions of the scene of Stinnett’s arrest. A five-page summary of the witnesses’ anticipated testimonies, as well as a curriculum vitae of each witness was included in the court file.

On Nov. 6, federal prosecutor Sanjay Patel filed a motion to compel a more detailed summary of the defendant’s experts, and to exclude proposed testimony of defendant’s use of force expert. The motion argued for Eaton to be compelled to disclose more details about Nichols’ and Miller’s testimonies, prevent Eaton from introducing medical testimony from Payne, prevent Eaton from introducing any of Payne’s testimony that addresses Stinnett’s mental state and prohibit Eaton from eliciting any opinions from the expert witnesses that were not disclosed prior to trial.

Disclosing expert witness testimony prior to trial is required by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, but the government is not required to disclose the list of its non-expert witnesses. The rule is meant “to prevent the defendant from obtaining an unfair advantage,” according to the Patel’s motion.

One of the big problems with this case is that the prosecution knows everything about their own case and the defense’s case, True said, but the defense doesn’t even know who the prosecution will call as witnesses.

“The whole game really is stacked in favor of the prosecution in that way,” True said.

Bennett’s attorney, Buddy Alexander, said he was not surprised the prosecution is trying to exclude the expert witnesses.

“Basically, the prosecution doesn’t want the defense to even have a chance,” Alexander said.

Alexander and Guffey’s attorney, Brian Butler, have already filed objections to the prosecution’s motion, and True said he will file an objection before the deadline at the beginning of next week. All three defense attorneys said they remain confident the court will rule in their favor and allow them to use their expert witnesses, although the decision will be left to Judge Joseph H. McKinley.

See the full story in the print or E-edition of Wednesday's Glasgow Daily Times.