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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Federal Court Jury Finds Barren County Sheriff, Chris Eaton, Guilty Of Two Counts Of Witness Tampering In Beating Case, Acquits His Deputies.

BOWLING GREEN — After eight hours of deliberation, a jury returned two guilty verdicts against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton in a federal deprivation of rights trial. Eaton was acquitted of the other six charges against him, and Barren County Deputy Aaron Bennett and Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey were acquitted of all charges against them.

The three officers were accused of beating Billy Randall Stinnett after he was in handcuffs on Feb. 24, 2010, and then lying to federal investigators about the incident.

The jury found all three not guilty on one charge of depriving Stinnett of his civil rights by assaulting or allowing other officers to assault him, and not guilty on one count of making a false statement to federal investigators in FBI interviews on April 20, 2010.

Eaton was found guilty of witness tampering by encouraging BCSO deputies Steve Runyon and Adam Minor to falsify details in their reports of Stinnett’s arrest. Runyon and Minor both took the stand earlier in the nine-day trial. Runyon alleged that Eaton told him to write in a report that he was with Eaton when he found a knife that belonged to Stinnett on the ground near the place of Stinnett’s arrest. Minor alleged that Eaton told Minor what to write in his report of Stinnett’s arrest and then the sheriff proof-read the report before it was given to federal investigators.

Eaton was also found not guilty of allowing officers under his command to assault Stinnett, falsifying his own report given to the FBI, striking Stinnett in the groin after he was handcuffed and telling an employee to delete a photograph that documented the alleged groin shot.

Guffey was also found not guilty of willfully allowing other officers to assault Stinnett and lying to federal investigators in an additional interview on March 7, 2011.

Family members and friends who stayed until the 9 p.m. verdicts in the Bowling Green courthouse cried as they hugged each other and the defendants.

J. Guthrie True, counsel for Eaton, did not hide his confusion after the verdicts were read.

“I’m baffled by the result,” True said.

Unfortunately, it looks like the jury may have compromised in their deliberations, True said.

“They acquitted of the allegation of the violation of the civil rights, so it seems a little inconsistent to find him guilty on witness tampering,” True said.

The penalties for the witness tampering charges are no more than 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and no more than three years of supervised release. Sentencing will be Aug. 1, 2013, at 9 a.m.

Buddy Alexander, counsel for Bennett, said he felt wonderful after court. There is always doubt when a jury is deliberating, Alexander said, but he was happy for the acquittal of his client. They got a good trial, Alexander said, and were able to break down the prosecution’s witnesses. Hearing two guilty verdicts for Eaton was hard, he said.

“But the jury speaks, and when they speak you have to listen,” Alexander said.

Brian Butler, defense attorney for Guffey, said he was “elated” with the verdicts, and he feels his client has been vindicated. The prosecution of Guffey was shameful, Butler said.

“We’re just very grateful and thankful the jury returned him to his family and returned him to Barren County where he can continue to protect and serve,” Butler said.

After leaving the courthouse with dozens of supporters who have sat through the trial, Guffey gave credit to one source.

“I give all the glory to God,” Guffey said.



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