GLASGOW – One of the people who received a pardon from former Gov. Matt Bevin before his term ended this week was Daniel Hostetler.
Hostetler, 26, was serving a 13-year prison sentence for the death of 19-year-old Brandon Crain of Hart County. Hostetler was indicted by a Hart County grand jury in May 2013 on first-degree manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence.
Crain went missing in January 2012. His body was recovered from the Green River in Butler County by fishermen in April 2012.
Joe Ballard, assistant commonwealth's attorney for Hart County, was upset upon hearing the news that Hostetler had been granted a pardon by the governor.
“I'm sickened for the Crain family. I don't think it was a case that was appropriate for pardon,” Ballard said on Thursday.
Ballard sent an email to Crain's sister notifying her about Hostetler being pardoned by the governor, but said he has not spoken to her by phone.
“She wrote back and indicated she had received my letter and thanked me for my efforts on the case,” Ballard said.
Hostetler was released from prison on Wednesday afternoon and driven by his attorney, Aaron Baker of Frankfort, to Flemingsburg, where his parents live.
Hostetler had seven years of his prison sentence left to serve.
His case was scheduled for review in Hart Circuit Court on Dec. 17.
“The history of the case is he pled guilty and he made a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. That was denied by the judge. He then filed a (motion) for ineffective assistance of counsel and the trial judge overturned the conviction because of the fact that there was a gas station video that was not disclosed,” Ballard said. “We appealed that because the video itself we didn't have, however, I, as a prosecutor, told the defense attorney about the video, the existence of the video. We just couldn't locate it at the time. The court of appeals reinstated the conviction based on their findings and the existing law on the issue, so then the defense has been appealing that decision further. What was pending was the defense's appeal of the court of appeal's decision to reinstate the judgement.”
Baker explained on Thursday that in addition to the motion pending in Hart Circuit Court, there was also an appeal pending in the Kentucky Court of Appeals and a federal court proceeding that was also pending.
“Essentially, we were continuing to present the evidence that he was innocent, but we had evidence that he couldn't have been in Munfordville on the night the victim went missing,” Baker said. “Thankfully, we put together a packet for the governor to ask him for a pardon and the governor looked at all the evidence and decided the best way to get justice was to grant a pardon.”
The federal case was on hold while Hostetler's attorney continued to work on the Hart Circuit Court case.
“Essentially, the argument there was that the state courts had gotten the case wrong,” Baker said. “But thankfully, at this point, none of the proceedings that are going on in state court need to go on.”
Hostetler was raised Amish and in 2013 he was experiencing Rumspringa, a rite of passage observed by some Amish youths who leave their communities to explore other lifestyles. He had moved from Flemingsburg to the Summer Shade community in Metcalfe County and was doing construction work during his Rumspringa.
“He had gone home to visit his parents during a sort of two-week period surrounding (the time) when Brandon Crain went missing and the evidence of that was not actually presented to the court originally during his case,” Baker said.
Baker also said Crain was suicidal at the time and was being bullied.
“He had a fight with some friends of his the day before and he left home at two in the morning and he didn't take his wallet, his cell phone or his keys,” Baker said. “There was surveillance video showing him walking through Munfordville toward the Green River Bridge and that was never turned over to the defense at the time of the trial, which is another big issue in the case.”
Baker continued that there were reports that Crain had threatened to jump off the Green River Bridge before he went missing.
“The missing person's report described him as suicidal,” Baker said. “Another fact that I think is significant is about two weeks before he went missing is that he had shot himself in the leg. He had gone for a psych evaluation and they put him on an antidepressant. You can see him walking on the surveillance video and he is sort of limping.”
Baker continued that the Kentucky State Police, when Crain's body was recovered from the river, concluded his death was suicide.
“It was about a year later that Dan Hostetler got wrapped up in the case,” Baker said.
Ballard, however, says the medical examiner testified that she could not say either way whether Crain's death was the result of suicide or homicide.
“By the time Brandon's body was discovered, it had been too long for her to be able to conclusively say what had happened,” Ballard said.
Hostetler confessed to his brother that he had killed someone in February 2013, but Baker said it was “... just a lie he made up so he wouldn't have to go back to the Amish. His brother got concerned about that and called the local bishop who called a Flemingsburg police officer.”
Baker said Hostetler's confession was false and could have been discovered to be false had it been investigated.
“They didn't do any investigation. Once he confessed they said: 'We're charging him,' and didn't try to investigate the case any further than that,” Baker said.
Hostetler has decided to rejoin the Amish community in Flemingsburg.
“(He is) looking forward to getting back to work at the job he has where everybody he works with loves him and can't wait to see him back,” Baker said.
Baker is with the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, which has a division called the Kentucky Innocence Project that handles cases of people who are believed to be innocent.
“This case was handled through the Kentucky Innocence Project Division,” Baker said.