Defense Calls First Witnesses in Trial of Barren County Sheriff and Other Officers

May 7, 2013

The defense has begun calling witnesses in the trial of Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and two other law enforcement officers.  The men stand accused of beating a suspect in handcuffs and lying about it to the FBI. 

Before calling their first witness, defense attorneys for Sheriff Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey, asked for acquittals or at least the dismissal of some charges, but the motions were rejected by U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley. 

The defense brought to the witness stand Ron Lafferty, a detective with the Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force.  Lafferty said when he arrived on the arrest scene, suspect Billy Stinnett was already in handcuffs and he saw no one hit Stinnett.  He wrote a report and stressed that Sheriff Eaton never influenced what he put in the report, as another officer testified earlier in the trial. 

Lafferty went on to say he met with federal prosecutors and an FBI agent prior to his grand jury testimony in 2011, and they advised him what to say and that lying could result in perjury charges.  Lafferty said at that point he felt threatened. 

On cross-examination, the government presented Lafferty with a transcript of his grand jury testimony where he stated he was treated fairly by the government.  Prosecutor Roy Conn asked Lafferty, despite what the government may have advised him, did he say everything he wanted to the grand jury.  Lafferty replied, "Yes, but I was expecting repercussions."

The next defense witness on the stand Tuesday was Dr. George Nichols, the retired chief medical examiner for Kentucky who now works as a consulting forensic pathologist. 

Based on photos of the suspect, he said Billy Stinnett could have received his head laceration from a baton, but added it could have also resulted from crashing his van, as the defense has argued.  As for bruises to other body parts, Dr. Nichols said they were not likely the result of baton strikes, based on the appearance of the bruises.  He added the bruising could have been caused from kicks, as a prosecution witness testified to seeing.  As for bruising behind the ear, Dr. Nichols said it could have been caused by a crash or a fist punch. 

On cross-examination by federal prosecutor Sanjay Patel, Nichols admitted any injury consistent with blunt force trauma would depend on certain circumstances. 

Patel asked Dr. Nichols if consulting forensic pathologist meant expert for hire?  He acknowledged the defense was paying $400 an hour for his expert help.

Testimony resumes at 9:00 am Wednesday at the U.S. District Courthouse in Bowling Green.