PRESTONSBURG — The question of whether a guilty man can still find justice will be answered over the next week, as five men who allegedly once shared a cell in the Floyd County Detention Center are tried for the near-fatal assault of a fellow inmate.
Opening statements and testimony began Thursday in Floyd Circuit Court, with Judge Johnny Ray Harris presiding.
The defendants, Ivan Gunnels Jr., 31, of Eastern; Christopher N. Newsome, 38, of Harold; Kevin Woods, 26, of Allen; Matthew Ritchie, 28, of Garrett; and Stephen Jervis, 50, of Prestonsburg, were each represented by their own counsel. Each man is charged with one count of complicity to first-degree assault in the beating of Fisher.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jordan Turner began by giving her opening statement, saying, “Terry Fisher walked in cell 59 a normal, healthy man, and the evidence will show, that 72 hours later, he left on a stretcher, permanently destroyed, and the evidence will show, that these five defendants are responsible for that.”
Turner outlined the prosecution’s case, pointing to witness statement. Turner said Fisher was perceived as an easy target, “kinda slow” and who “wouldn’t fight back,” and that as a result of this perception, he was “harassed and tortured for 72 straight hours.”
Three of the five defense attorneys — Melissa Goodman, Gerald Derossett and Max Butler — opted to give opening statements, in which they pointed to a jail with no security cameras in the cells, overcrowding, routine fights and a gang mentality that appears in the dorm cells. The attorneys also held there was not sufficient physical evidence to support the charges and questioned the credibility of eyewitnesses, whom they claimed “got deals” to testify for the commonwealth.
One such person named by the defense was Larry Thomas Adkins, 30, of Pikeville, who had previously also been charged with complicity to first-degree assault, but is not being tried with the others.
Max Butler, attorney for Ivan Gunnels, pointed to the jail during his opening statement, noting that jail records state that his client wasn’t even in the same cell, despite agreed upon witness statements that affirm his presence. Butler also said jail officials forced Fisher to sign a Released on own Recognizance (ROR) form before taking him to the hospital, which released the jail from having to cover his medical expenses.
Testimony began with the prosecution’s first witness, Dr. Stephen C. Shy, the emergency room physician at Highlands Regional Medical Center (HRMC) who initially treated Fisher. Shy described Fisher upon coming into HRMC after his assault as having multiple brain hemorrhages, or bleeds, a facial fracture, a skull fracture, nasal bone fracture, multiple rib fractures, and severe bruising to his elbows and knees. Fisher also had fractured several vertebrae in his lower back, which Dr. Shy said he normally saw in ATV accidents and car crashes involving severe side impacts.
The trial is expected to resume today in Floyd Circuit Court, and could last well into next week.
On Aug. 10, 2008, Terry Fisher, then a prisoner at the Floyd County Detention Center, was reportedly found near death in his cell, after allegedly being assaulted by other inmates. One defendant originally named in the charges, Michael Rowland, died before he could be brought to trial.
Fisher, through his niece, Tina Green, is also currently involved in civil lawsuit being tried in U.S. District court against the Floyd County Detention Center.
First-degree assault is a Class B felony punishable by 10-to-20 years in prison.