A potentially crucial piece of evidence in the case against Rep. Robert Goforth is missing, according to the representative’s defense attorneys.
Robert Goforth, who was recently re-elected and represents a small portion of Berea and Madison County, was indicted in September on strangulation and assault charges stemming from an incident which took place in April 2020 at his home.
The Republican representative is accused of trying to “hog tie” and then strangle his wife, Amy Goforth, with an ethernet cable and also hitting her in the head on April 21, according arrest citations.
The missing piece of evidence is a recording of Ashley Goforth’s interview with members of the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office shortly after the incident in April took place.
A motion filed by Robert Goforth’s attorneys, Conrad Cessna and Willis Coffey, states the Commonwealth Attorney’s office told them the recording of the interview “has been lost and the circumstances surrounding the missing recording are unknown.”
Cessna and Coffey state in court documents the recording is a “key piece of evidence” and asked Circuit Judge Michael O. Caperton to either suppress the statement made by Ashley Goforth, or if the recording is not found and the case goes to a jury, to explain to the jurors the recording could have been favorable to Robert Goforth’s defense.
“It certainly is odd, in a case with the public scrutiny as great as this one, that law enforcement would “lose” the alleged victim’s recorded interview,” the attorneys said in the motion.
In a phone interview with The Register on Thursday, Cessna said it is "extremely rare" for evidence to go missing.
Cessna and Coffey have asked for an evidentiary hearing in order to figure out what exactly happened to the recording and for a missing-evidence instruction.
If granted, Cessna said it is important to find out if the sheriff’s office just misplaced the recording because of negligence or acted in bad faith and intentionally destroyed or concealed the evidence.
Regardless, the attorneys argued in their motion, the loss of the recording leaves the defense without possible evidence favorable to Robert Goforth — such as if the investigators asked leading questions of Ashley Goforth during her interview.
“The significance of Ashley Goforth’s recorded statement is readily apparent. It is the potential witness’, perhaps, first official recounting of the events which form the basis for the charges against Mr. Goforth. Further, it is a recorded history of the conduct of law enforcement relative to this phase of the investigation. Additionally, the loss of the recorded statement costs the defense potentially valuable impeachment evidence,” the motion states.
Cessna noted the Laurel County Sheriff's Office is usually very diligent with evidence, however, it appears the recording in this case was made by an investigator who is no longer a part of the sheriff's office.
"The problem is, we don't know what happened to the evidence. Any time you have a criminal case you want all the evidence that is out there. In this case, we have evidence that is now gone," Cessna explained.
The motion is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 17.
Calls to Commonwealth Attorney Jackie Steele, the prosecutor of the case against Robert Goforth, went unanswered Thursday.
However, in an interview with the Lexington Herald Leader, Steele said the trial will go forward even if the recording isn’t available.
The attorney also noted he has not seen anything to indicate the sheriff’s office deliberately did anything wrong, including intentionally getting rid of the recording.
The Laurel County Sheriff’s Office was reached by phone by The Register on Thursday, but was told the office could not verify a piece of evidence was lost because it could not comment on ongoing litigation.
Ashley Goforth asked that her husband not be indicted on the charges against him shortly after his arrest.
“We have both sought spiritual and family counseling as we continue to work on our personal issues as a married couple,” Ashley Goforth said in a statement she issued in September. “It has been a difficult year, but we are thankful for the grace and compassion of a loving God. It has sustained us.”
The case was still sent to a grand jury, which indicted Robert Goforth. The representative plead not guilty in June to charges of strangulation, assault and terroristic threatening.
Despite the charges, Robert Goforth easily won reelection to his seat in November, picking up 71% of the vote.
Two unrelated complaints from citizens were filed against the representative in October, alleging misconduct and criminal activity in regards to a mailer which appeared to have been hand-written by Ashley Goforth. The complaint accuses Robert Goforth of using a crime victim pending his case, disguised as a personal letter, and failing to use "paid for by" disclaimers.
This week a group of local citizens also filed a petition seeking Robert Goforth’s impeachment.