PRESTONSBURG — The trial of five former prisoners accused of beating a fellow inmate came to an abrupt halt last Thursday, after the judge ruled the jury pool had been tainted.
According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Arnold Brent Turner, the trial had only just begun when an errant question by a defense attorney led the proceedings into a gray area.
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 attorneys. Each man is charged with one count of complicity to first-degree assault in the beating of Fisher.
According to Turner, the commonwealth agreed with defense attorneys not to bring up the fact that the cell in which all of the men were housed, Cell 59, was the cell used to hold inmates accused of sex offenses. Turner said defense attorneys did not wish for their clients to misrepresented as sex offenders in the eyes of the jury.
But once trial began, it was attorney Will Collins’ questioning of witness Parker Derossett that brought the matter up. Collins represents Matthew Richie.
Turner said Collins questioned Derossett about the procedures used to protect accused sex offenders, and if there was a special cell for them. When Derossett answered that Cell 59 was the cell used to house sex offenders, Turner said the other defense attorneys “all objected and went crazy.”
Turner said it was nothing that the commonwealth did, but Collins’ line of questioning that opened the door to the jury learning of Cell 59’s status as a sex offender cell.
“It’s frustrating on our end,” said Turner. “We did what were supposed to do.”
According to Turner, there will likely be a status conference in a month, but that the trial will be pushed back until a new jury pool can be seated, sometime this summer.
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.