PIKEVILLE -- An appeals court has overturned a conviction against Glenn Turner, an Eastern Kentucky businessman charged in a high-profile vote-fraud investigation.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling on Thursday, overturned the charges against Turner, who was convicted on charges related to vote fraud along with another Pikeville businessman, a former judicial candidate and the candidate's wife.
Turner declined to immediately comment Thursday, saying he wanted to discuss the ruling with his attorney first.
Turner was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud based on claims by prosecutors that he participated in a scheme to defraud the citizens of Kentucky of the honest services of a candidate for public office and in a scheme to defraud the state of public office salaries.
"We reverse the judgment of the district court because Turner's conduct, as alleged in the indictment, may not be prosecuted under the mail fraud statute using either the honest services theory or salary theory of prosecution," the appeals court ruled.
Turner still faces perjury charges stemming from grand jury testimony.
Prosecutors claimed the four defendants conspired to buy enough votes to assure Pikeville attorney John Doug Hays, a former state senator, would win a race for district judge. That was alleged to have been done with illegal contributions from coal operator Ross Harris, a wealthy coal operator who died earlier in June while still appealing his conviction.
Harris was accused of illegally contributing some $40,000 to Hays' unsuccessful judicial race in 2002. Hays and his wife, Brenda Hays, were convicted of mail fraud charges for submitting false campaign reports in the same case.
Prosecutors also claimed that Turner and Harris gave an additional $20,000 to the re-election campaign of Knott County Judge-Executive Donnie Newsome, who served 16 months in federal prison after being convicted of election fraud in 2003.
The court reasoned that since candidates, unlike elected officials, provide no "services" to the public, they can't be held to the same standard under the law. The court also found nothing to support charges that Turner was defrauding state salaries.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor said prosecutors may appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"This is a decision that probably needs to be made on that level," Taylor said. "Whether they would consider it significant enough to be reviewed on that level, that's not clear."
Taylor said the ruling in Turner's case may affect the Hays' current appeal, though he wouldn't elaborate.
He stressed that the ruling specifically addressed the mail fraud statute, not the issue of vote fraud.
"The judgment goes to mail fraud, they didn't address the issue of legally recognizing vote-buying," he said.