- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Death penalty now possible in jail guard cases
Nov 17, 2004 12:00 am
The federal death penalty is now a possibility for the two main defendents indicted in an alleged civil rights conspiracy within the Wilson County Jail.
A federal prosecutor said Monday the cases of former Wilson County Sheriffs Department guards Patrick Marlowe and Gary Hale have been referred to the Capital Case Review Committee in the U.S. Department of Justice.
"It has in fact gone to the capital review committee," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Cohen said Monday when asked about Marlowe and Hale's cases, adding the matter was discussed in open court Monday.
Monday's hearing in the cases of five former jail guards on civil rights conspiracy charges was held for the defendents to ask U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell to put off a trial date until after the turn of the year, which a defense attorney indicated he expects to happen.
The Capital Case Review Committee in the federal death penalty system reviews all cases referred by U.S. Attorneys offices where the death penalty may apply.
Federal statutes do not specifically allow for the death penalty under the charges Marlow and Hale face, the most serious of which is the conspiracy charge.
However, according to federal death penalty guidelines, having one or more "aggravating factors" in a case may also require the case to be reviewed by the committee.
Many of those factors are linked to the death of victims, including "the commission of a killing after substantial planning and premeditation" or the "commission of a killing in the course of another serious offense."
Marlow and Hale are both alleged to have beaten former inmate Walter Steven Kuntz in January 2003. Kuntz eventually died, with the state's medical examiner ruling the death a homicide and saying his injuries were consistent with a beating.
A DOJ spokesperson said in general certain factors require local U.S. Attorneys to refer potential death penalty cases to the committee regardless of whether the death penalty is being considered.
According to DOJ procedure, the department's Criminal Division Capital Case Unit first makes an analysis and offers a written opinion.
Next, the committee comprised of senior Justice Department lawyers considers the case units recommendation. A subsequent recommendation is then sent to the U.S. Attorney General. The decision to seek the death penalty in any federal prosecution is soley at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney General.
"The decision is with the U.S. Attorney General, not the U.S. Attorney," DOJ Criminal Divison spokesperson Bryan Sierra told The Lebanon Democrat Monday. "It is my understanding the decision is still made here. That is inherent to the process."
Marlowe, a former second shift sergeant at the jail, is identified in federal court documents as a "leader" of the alleged conspiracy, which investigators contend included 11 separate jailhouse beatings betweeen July 2001 and January 2003. At the time Hale served as a second-shift corporal and the remaining three defendants – guards Shane Conatser, Robert Brian Ferrell and Robert Locke – were working under their supervision.
The indictment charging the five alleges that as part of the conspiracy they would "inform and encourage each other by bragging about and reneacting these assaults, including compiling an oral 'knockout list' of victims who had been rendered unconcsious during an assault."
The indictment also alleges that as part of an ongoing effort to cover up the assaults, the defendants would routinely deny medical care to their victim/prisoners and falsify official jail incident reports. Charges of falsifying such reports have already resulted in guilty pleas from two ex-jailers while two others have already pleaded guilty to assault-related charges. All four are awaiting sentencing.
The indictment was returned after an 18-month investigation which began with the death of Kuntz, 43, who spent seven hours behind bars before being rushed to an area hospital in a coma from which he never recovered.
A defense attorney contacted about the case on Monday said he expects Campbell to grant a request that the trial be continued until May.
Attorney Robert Yarbrough, however, did not seek a continuance on behalf of Locke, his client, though he indicated he would be agreeable to such a delay.
"Mr. Locke has consistently said he wants to go forward and wants his innocence established," Yarbrough said. "He wants to put this behind him and go back to work at the sheriff's department, which obviously he can't do with this matter pending."
Yarbrough said that while rules of procedure in federal court would allow him to argue that his client should stand trial in December as originally scheduled, he would likely agree to the May continuance.
"In all likelihood we will go along with it," the attorney said.
Attempts to contact attorneys for both Marlowe and Hale on Monday were unsuccessful.
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at email@example.com.