Federal Case Against Eaton, Two Others, Now in the Hands of a Jury
Update at 10:30 p.m.: Jury finds Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton guilty on two counts of witness tampering. Deputy Aaron Bennett and Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey were acquitted on all counts.
The federal case against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and two other southern Kentucky law enforcement officers is now in the hands of a jury.
Eaton, Barren County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey face charges of beating a suspect who was already in custody, and then lying about it to federal investigators.
Lawyers for Bennett and Guffey finished their closing statements Thursday morning, telling jurors they would have to believe the testimony of Adam Minor in order to find their clients guilty. Minor is a former Barren County Sheriff's Deputy who was on the scene of the incident in 2010 when suspect Billy Stinnett was taken into custody.
Minor initially pleaded guilty to the same charges facing the three defendants, but later changed his plea and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
Minor told jurors he took part in the alleged beating of Stinnett, along with the other three. Minor said the beating continued even after Stinnett was placed in handcuffs and unable to defend himself.
Attorneys for the three defendants attacked Minor's credibility throughout the trial, pointing out he has admitted to previously lying under oath to a state court and grand jury.
Lead Prosecutor Sanjay Patel tried to refute those defense arguments Thursday, telling jurors Minor realized he was on a sinking ship and decided to come forward and tell what really happened. Patel also pointed out that what Minor told jurors in this trial is supported by multiple eye-witnesses.
The main issue jurors must grapple with is whether or not the force used by law enforcement agents against Stinnett was reasonable under the circumstances, or whether it was excessive and came even after he was subdued and no longer a threat.
Stinnett has admitted to being high on meth the night he was arrested. He led police on an hour-long, high-speed chase before crashing his vehicle into a Glasgow church. A mobile meth lab was found in the back of his vehicle.
Several of the witnesses who testified for the prosecution were teenagers who were at the church the night of the incident, and saw Stinnett taken into custody.
The federal case against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, one of his deputies, and a drug task force detective has just gone to the jury at U.S. District Court in Bowling Green.
WKU Public Radio's Lisa Autry says closing arguments wrapped up early this afternoon and the jury has been given the case to deliberate. The three law enforcement agents are accused of beating a drug suspect while he was already in custody, and then lying about it to federal investigators afterwards.
Defense attorneys say the force used against Billy Stinnett in 2010 was reasonable and did not continue after he was placed in handcuffs.