With less than two months until trial, defense attorneys and prosecutors in the federal case against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, Deputy Sheriff Aaron Bennett and Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey have filed nearly all the documents they need to proceed with the April 29 trial date.
On Tuesday, Eaton defense attorney J. Guthrie True, of Frankfort, filed supplemental jury instructions, voir dire questions, exhibit list and pretrial memorandum to address anything involving the two additional counts charged against Eaton in November 2012. True, Brian Butler of Louisville, attorney for Guffey, Buddy Alexander of Glasgow, attorney for Bennett, and the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights prosecutors, Sanjay Patel and Roy Conn III, of Washington, D.C., all filed those four pretrial documents in July and August of 2012, before the initial August 28 trial date. For the currently scheduled April 29 date, the deadline for filing the documents is April 15. True needed to file additional jury instructions and a pretrial memorandum because more counts were added to Eaton's indictment.
“I just needed to supplement my filings to address those two counts,” True said.
Eaton, Bennett, Guffey and now-cooperating witness Adam Minor were indicted in February 2012 for an arrest incident that occurred Feb. 24, 2010. The four law enforcement officials are accused of using unnecessary force and continuing to beat Billy Randall Stinnett after placing him in handcuffs on Feb. 24, 2010, after Stinnett led them on a one-hour car chase and then tried to flee the scene. All four defendants were charged with deprivation of rights under color of law and making false statements to federal investigators. Eaton was additionally charged with witness tampering, falsification of a document and destruction of records, documents or tangible objects. After initially pleading not guilty with the other defendants, Minor changed his plea to guilty of one count of lying to federal prosecutors in early May 2012.
The pretrial memorandums filed by each attorney outlines what the defendants are charged with, how the jurors are to evaluate guilt, the undisputed facts of the case and any predicted problems in the case. The exhibit list is a list of all evidence each side expects to include in the course of the trial. Voir dire questions are the questions each attorney plans to ask potential jurors in order to determine any potential prejudices the jury pool may have, and the jury instructions explain to selected jurors what the attorney believes to be the legal duties of the jurors.
The prosecution's pretrial memorandum, filed Aug. 2, says that Eaton “led a brutal assault” against Stinnett, and blames Eaton and Guffey, who allegedly put the handcuffs on Stinnett, for failing to protect Stinnett from assault once they took him into custody. The BCSO officials involved in the arrest did not document the use of force in the assault until the FBI requested reports approximately 10 days after the incident, the prosecution said. The report on the incident was compiled by the Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force, as Stinnett had a mobile methamphetamine lab in the van he was driving.
The prosecution goes on in its pretrial memorandum to detail the alleged cover-up “concocted” by Eaton, and false statements Guffey allegedly made to FBI agents regarding seeing Stinnett's blood at the scene.
U.S. citizens have the Fourth Amendment rights to be free from the use of unreasonable force and be protected and kept free from harm, prosecutors wrote in their memorandum.
The defendants’ pretrial memorandums dispute many of the alleged facts in the prosecution's memorandum, emphasizing legal requirements to prove a defendant's guilt. In his voir dire questions, True states that being presumed innocent until proven guilty does not mean that a juror starts a trial feeling neutral about a defendant's guilt or innocence.
“It's not enough for you to be merely 'neutral' as to whether the defendants are guilty or not guilty,” True wrote. “For you to provide the defendants their constitutional right to be presumed innocent of the charges against them means that you must take it as fact that they are innocent of the charges, and that can't change unless the government proves to you beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty of the particular offenses charged.”
Read the full report in Thurday's print or e-edition of the Glasgow Daily Times.