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Ex-jailers plead for leniency
Apr 11, 2006 12:00 am
April 1, 2006 A pair of ex-Wilson County jailers received relatively lenient sentences from a federal judge Friday, who said his decisions were based in large part on the high level of cooperation both men demonstrated during the investigation and trial of their former colleagues.
Brian Ferrell was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison followed by two years of conditional probation. Travis Bradley eluded jail time altogether, receiving two years of conditional probation.
A third former jail guard, ex-Cpl. Gary Hale, had his sentencing hearing rescheduled to June 16.
Despite pleas from family members and his attorney to grant house arrest, U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell sentenced Ferrell to 12 months in prison for his role in a string of jail house beatings and subsequent cover-ups, a sentence the judge described as "sufficient but not greater than necessary."
Early in the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into the death of inmate Walter S. Kuntz, Ferrell was one of a number of guards to strike a deal with federal prosecutors, pleading guilty to lesser offenses and testifying in the trial of Patrick Marlowe, Shane Conatser and Robert Locke.
Even with the plea deal intact, Ferrell still could have faced years behind bars.
But U.S. attorneys filed motions asking Campbell to depart from the federal sentencing guidelines and render an even more reduced sentence, given Ferrell's role in securing verdicts of guilt against Conatser and Marlowe.
Campbell said Friday it was Ferrell's "substantial assistance" in the trial that led to his granting the government's "downward departure" motion. The judge described Ferrell as "extremely credible" during the trial.
"I'm also taking into account that Mr. Ferrell had a lesser role in terms of the civil rights violations of Mr. McGee," Campbell said, referring to Dartanian McGee, the inmate Ferrell pleaded guilty to striking.
Ferrell's current employer, his mother-in-law and even an ex-Wilson County inmate handled by Ferrell all testified he was a compassionate, hard working and even-tempered family man. Ferrell's mother-in-law, Pricilla Blevens, also reminded the judge Ferrell's wife, Courtney, is due to give birth in September.
"I didn't mean to ever hurt anyone," Ferrell told the judge, fighting back tears. "That's not in my nature. But if I did, I apologize to anyone I hurt."
Ferrell also recounted how he always helped inmates find bail bondsmen and even played cards with them on occasion.
"I understand what I did was wrong," the former jailer said. "And I understand that I can't go back. But if I could, I guess it would be different."
Ferrell's attorney, Russell Leonard, told Campbell house arrest would be "a sentence that makes sense."
Campbell stopped short, though, of eliminating jail time altogether.
"I don't think a sentence of probation is appropriate, because it wouldn't adequately deter law enforcement officers from similar abuse," the judge said.
Courtney Ferrell buried her face in her mother's shoulder and wept as the judge read the sentence.
Ferrell will report for his 12 months in federal prison May 1. During his two years of probation following his prison term, Ferrell will not be allowed to work in any law enforcement or corrections capacity or own or carry firearms.
Even considering his denied request for house arrest, Leonard said he was "elated."
"I think Judge Campbell put a lot of thought into what he heard at the trial," Leonard said, adding his client is "glad to have it over with."
"He'll serve his time and then he'll go home and start rebuilding his life," Leonard continued.
Travis Bradley was sentenced to two years of probation for lying to federal investigators about abuse at the jail.
He pleaded guilty to that charge and agreed to testify against his former colleagues at the jail only two weeks after giving a false statement to FBI Special Agent Scott Swallows.
He could have faced six months in prison, but Campbell said he took into account how quickly Bradley recanted his statement and began to cooperate.
"In the totality of these related actions, your conduct is less serious than others," Campbell told Bradley. "It's serious, but given your lack of criminal record parole seems appropriate."
Yet, at the same time, Campbell offered a sobering perspective and stern warning.
"Mr. Bradley, you are in a very rare case the judge said. "The number of people in federal court who are even eligible for parole is very small."
He said this was definitively Bradley's "last opportunity to stay out of trouble."
Bradley's probation means he will be barred from working in law enforcement or corrections as well as owning or possessing firearms.
Bradley declined comment after leaving court.
His attorney, Eddie Taylor, said he believed the sentence was appropriate under the circumstances and was "very pleased with the judges ruling."
Like Bradley himself told the judge, Taylor said his client understood what he did was wrong and will always regret it.
"Travis is just a kid. It's tough when you have to say stuff about your friends," said Taylor, who noted when Bradley made his false statement he did so without consulting a lawyer or having a lawyer present. "But within two weeks of him not telling the truth we came in and told it like it was."
A late disclosure of materials from the probation office resulted in Campbell delaying Hale's a sentencing.
Hale's attorney and Campbell explained the court received documents relevant to Hale's attempt at restitution less than an hour before he was to be sentenced.
He will now be sentenced along with ex-guards William Westmoreland and John McKinney on June 16.