A long day of testimony Wednesday ended with Madison County Sheriff Nelson O’Donnell denying any allegation of intimidation by his officers against the woman at the center of the case against three Richmond police officers.
O’Donnell took the stand Wednesday afternoon to testify about his department’s investigation into allegations of witness tampering by Sgt. James “J.J.” Rogers and patrolmen Garry Murphy and Brian Hensley against April McQueen.
Prosecutors called O’Donnell to the stand at 2:15 p.m. after attorneys spent most of the morning continuing to question McQueen.
Much of O’Donnell’s testimony directly contradicted McQueen’s earlier statements about how O’Donnell and his deputies had “terrorized” her in an attempt to force her to make allegations against the officers.
O’Donnell testified that he spoke to McQueen briefly at Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center when she was treated for a cut lip following her encounter with the officers, and also participated in a portion of the second statement she gave to investigators at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
McQueen had given her first statement at the sheriff’s office after leaving the hospital, and the second statement was given the following day after Rogers drove McQueen to the sheriff’s office, he said.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had a suspect bring in a victim to make a statement,” O’Donnell told Commonwealth’s Attorney David Smith.
McQueen had testified under cross-examination by defense attorney Scott Crosbie earlier in the day that she went with Rogers in an attempt to stop any investigation into a consensual sexual encounter.
“I just wanted to go down there and get this over with,” McQueen said.
During her testimony Wednesday, McQueen said that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Hall Smith repeatedly stopped a tape recorder documenting a Nov.12 meeting Smith had with McQueen and her attorney, Mary Sharp.
Smith played the tape for jurors to demonstrate that there was a continuous recording of the interview. As the tape was played, McQueen could be seen on the witness stand looking repeatedly at Sharp, who was seated in the courtroom.
Smith asked McQueen about how she hired Sharp, a Louisville attorney. During the questioning, Smith showed McQueen one of Sharp’s business cards which lists her Web site, www.officerdefense.net, and asked McQueen if that indicated Sharp represented police officers as an attorney.
McQueen’s questioning also focused on statements she had made about Crosbie and several meetings they had prior to the start of the trial.
Crosbie, Sharp and McQueen met on March 4 at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Richmond, McQueen testified, but the meeting was “just for a meal,” she said.
McQueen also testified that Crosbie had visited her apartment on one occasion, and said Crosbie had drafted a lawsuit that Sharp and McQueen were discussing filing against O’Donnell.
“He knows a lot of the facts because I had talked with him,” McQueen said. She also disputed earlier testimony she had given the grand jury in which she said Sharp would be paid from the proceeds after winning the suit, and said Sharp is representing her pro bono.
Smith and McQueen had a number of contentious exchanges during her testimony Wednesday, leading Madison Circuit Judge William G. Clouse to admonish McQueen from the bench at one point during her testimony.
“Try not to be self-serving with your answers,” Clouse instructed McQueen.
Smith used transcripts of McQueen’s testimony to the grand jury to highlight contradictions in McQueen’s testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, including one statement where McQueen had told the grand jury allegations of misconduct and intimidation by O’Donnell in a letter from Sharp were untrue and that she had not seen the letter before it was sent.
O’Donnell’s testimony included the playing of one of a number of phone conversations he had with McQueen after she was placed under his protection following her Dec. 21 grand jury appearance.
In the phone call recorded Jan. 8, McQueen thanked O’Donnell for his protection and assistance and gave him permission to continue to call her.
Prosecutors sought to introduce additional recordings, but the tapes were not played after a lengthy conference in Clouse’s chambers.
Clouse told the jury the tapes would not be played because the recordings could not be definitively put in chronological order.
O’Donnell was permitted to testify about his conversations with McQueen between Dec. 21 and early February. He described McQueen as “very friendly, very candid and open” in the conversations.
McQueen also contacted O’Donnell on Jan. 28 following the indictments being returned to thank him for his efforts, O’Donnell testified.
Prosecutor David Smith also asked O’Donnell about the draft lawsuit he received from McQueen. O’Donnell said all the markings on the copy were made by McQueen to indicate portions of the suit which were untruthful, and that McQueen had said Crosbie prepared the suit to give to Sharp to file.
On cross-examination, Crosbie asked O’Donnell to explain why no recordings were made of interviews former Sgt. Scotty Anderson and former Detective Robert Short made at the scene on Oct. 26, and why one interview of McQueen with Detective Steve King was not recorded.
O’Donnell said his officers are permitted to use their own discretion in conducting interviews with victims or witnesses.
Anderson is no longer with the department after taking a medical leave in November, O’Donnell testified, and Short was laid off from the department in part because of budget cuts.
Crosbie also asked O’Donnell if he made statements referring to Richmond Police Chief Larry Brock as a “bad apple.”
O’Donnell said he did not recall the statement and said he and Brock had a good relationship in the past, but had not spoken recently.
“He’s sort of been avoiding me,” O’Donnell said.
Crosbie also peppered O’Donnell with questions about statements O’Donnell made to Register reporter Ronica Shannon in the days after the investigation began. The statements appeared in an Oct. 31 story in the Register which Crosbie introduced into evidence.
O’Donnell specifically denied calling Shannon first to talk about the case, but did admit that he gave statements about the situation when asked.
Crosbie asked O’Donnell about one particular statement in which he said the then-unnamed victim had alleged a sexual assault before recanting the claim the following day.
O’Donnell testified that the victim had made statements at the scene alleging a sexual assault, and Anderson had communicated the same information when speaking to O’Donnell the morning the incident was first reported.
“She changed her statements when the three officers brought her into my office to be re-interviewed,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell told Crosbie later that he was “floored” when Rogers brought McQueen to the office for the second interview, and that he had “no way of knowing” Rogers would be coming to the office.
McQueen testified earlier in the day that Rogers wanted to take her back to the office because he was concerned about his job as a result of the investigation.
During Crosbie’s cross-examination of McQueen, she said she “begged” O’Donnell to drop the investigation and felt that her grand jury appearances were “a setup.”
“I was just a toy they were using to get what they wanted,” McQueen said.
She referred to Hensley as “a teddy bear” and “totally harmless” and said she was “horrified and outraged” when he was indicted.
McQueen said she attempted to make contact with Hensley on the social networking site Facebook to apologize for the situation.
When asked by Jennifer Smith, McQueen admitted she had only created her Facebook account less than a month ago, and attempts to contact Hensley also were made because they would be used in court.
McQueen admitted the same motivation was behind a Feb. 14 text message she sent to Rogers following his arraignment. “That was my idea,” McQueen said.
Both McQueen and O’Donnell were not released from their subpoenas after testifying and can be recalled as witnesses in the trial, which resumes Thursday morning.