Madison Circuit Judge William G. Clouse shocked attorneys for three Richmond police officers and prosecutors Thursday afternoon by announcing a March 22 trial date on witness tampering charges against the officers.
Sgt. James Rogers and patrolmen Garry Murphy and Brian Hensley appeared in court for a pretrial conference on the charges of intimidating a participant in a legal process or tampering with a witness filed against them in connection with an October incident.
Clouse opened the conference by addressing a text message the target of the alleged intimidation, April McQueen, had sent to Rogers following his arraignment last month.
A portion of the message had been redacted when the message was included with a “notice of filing” by attorneys Jim Deckard and Scott Crosbie last month.
Clouse read the entire message in open court. The redacted portion related to a possible relationship Clouse may have had with an acquaintance of McQueen’s named John.
McQueen and her attorney, Louisville lawyer Mary Sharp, were present in the courtroom and Clouse asked McQueen to explain the portion of the message relating to the alleged relationship.
After McQueen explained her intent in the message, Clouse denied knowing “John” but did admit to knowing Rogers, Hensley and Murphy from their work as police officers and asked attorneys if they felt a recusal was warranted.
Neither Deckard and Crosbie nor Commonwealth’s Attorney David Smith felt Clouse’s familiarity with the officers was a reason for a recusal.
Clouse spent several minutes asking Deckard to explain his motion seeking the expansion of an order disallowing contact with McQueen in the case to include Smith’s office and Madison County Sheriff Nelson O’Donnell.
He also asked Deckard to explain why a transcript of an interview McQueen gave to Kentucky State Police investigators had been redacted and who redacted it.
Deckard told Clouse he had redacted portions of the interview referring to what McQueen and the officers claim was a consensual sexual encounter that was initially reported to O’Donnell’s office as a sexual assault before McQueen recanted the claim the following day.
“I’m very concerned when I get a motion that has a redaction with it and I didn’t have a hand in that redaction,” Clouse said before unsealing the unredacted transcript.
The no-contact order, which initially had applied only to Rogers, Hensley and Murphy, was lifted by Clouse after he instructed Sharp that McQueen could choose to speak to anyone without Sharp being present.
Clouse overruled a motion Deckard filed asking for Smith’s office to be disqualified from prosecuting the case, and scheduled an evidentiary hearing for 1:30 p.m. Monday to consider the issue of whether or not Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Hall Smith can be compelled to testify as a witness in the case.
Deckard and Crosbie also asked Clouse to require Smith’s office to provide a bill of particulars identifying the specific accusations behind the charges, a request Clouse granted.
Clouse scheduled the March 22 trial date to reach a swift resolution in the case, he told the attorneys, and has cleared his schedule specifically to hold the trial that week.
Deckard, David Smith and Jennifer Smith all declined to comment following the pretrial conference.