Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

January 31, 2014

Attorney asks for oral appeal

GLASGOW — An attorney representing former Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton filed a request this week to make oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit as he seeks to have Eaton’s federal witness tampering conviction overturned.

Frankfort attorney J. Guthrie True requested in a brief filed this week to make arguments before the appeals panel because “this case involves novel and complex legal issues. Oral argument will assist the Court.”

The brief says Eaton requests that the two witness tampering counts on which he was found guilty be dismissed or that he be granted a new trial on only those two counts.

A federal jury in Bowling Green found Eaton guilty of two counts of witness tampering in May, although he was acquitted of the primary charges of deprivation of rights and making false statements to federal investigators.

The case stemmed from the Feb. 24, 2010, police pursuit and subsequent arrest of Billy Randall Stinnett, during which Stinnett was allegedly assaulted by Eaton and other officers after he was already handcuffed.

Sheriff’s deputies Adam Minor and Aaron Bennett and Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey were indicted along with Eaton. Minor made a plea deal with federal prosecutors for testifying against the other defendents, and he received two years’ probation.

Bennett and Guffey were acquitted.

Eaton was sentenced on Aug. 1 to 18 months’ incarceration and two years of supervised release thereafter by Chief Judge Joseph McKinley. He has been allowed to remain free on bond during the appeals process.

True’s summary of his appellate arguments begin with this point: “The verdicts hang solely on the testimony of admitted perjurers. Minor and Runyon testified, contrary to their earlier testimony, that Eaton urged them to give a false account of the arrest of Stinnett. But Eaton didn’t rely on this story line in his own report, nor did he reference it in his interview with the FBI.

“It is wholly illogical that Eaton would construct a cover-up story and then not use it. This evidence is not enough to support the verdicts. A judgment of acquittal should have been granted.”

True also objects to the wording of the jury instructions.

For example, the document says, “the inconsistency in the verdicts – acquittal on all charges related to the alleged assault, but conviction on the witness tampering counts – strongly suggests, in retrospect, that the jury believed that if Eaton made any comment to the deputies about including specific information in their reports then he must be guilty of witness tampering.”

“[The pertinent law] is only violated if one ‘knowingly ... corruptly persuades’ another with intent to ‘hinder, delay, or prevent the communication ... of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense,’ ” True wrote.

Furthermore, that information must be material to the case in order to support a conviction for witness tampering, True wrote.

“The investigation concerned whether Sheriff Eaton and the deputies unlawfully assaulted Stinnett after he was handcuffed and compliant. Whether Stinnett was holding a knife at the time he confronted Eaton was not material to the investigation into whether Stinnett was assaulted after he was restrained and compliant,” True wrote.

True also argues that government prosecutors improperly referred twice during their closing to the fact that Eaton did not testify on his own behalf.

“This prejudiced Eaton as it highlighted the fact that he did not take the stand to rebut the only evidence presented at trial regarding the charges of witness tampering – the testimony of Runyon and Minor,” True’s summary said. “If no single issue alone resulted in prejudice to Eaton, certainly the cumulative effect of the trial errors resulted in prejudice so great that the verdict must be set aside and a new trial granted.”

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