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Ex-correctional officers to be tried in two groups

May 21, 2009|By DAVID DISHNEAU

HAGERSTOWN -- Seven former Maryland correctional officers charged with beating an inmate during two shifts at a medium-security prison in Western Maryland will be tried in groups, a judge ruled Thursday.

Another defendant will be tried separately, and a ninth is expected to testify against the others.

The pretrial hearing Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court produced new details about the alleged attack on inmate Kenneth J. Davis, 42.

Davis was hospitalized for a broken nose and other injuries he suffered March 8 and 9, 2008, at the Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown.

All the defendants have pleaded innocent to a single charge of second-degree assault, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

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Four defendants, Scott Boozel, 28, of McConnellsburg, Pa.; Robert Harvey, 62, of Hagerstown; Timothy Mellott, 23, of Woodbridge, Va.; and Keith Morris, 27, of Warfordsburg, Pa., beat Davis during the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift March 8, Assistant Attorney General Jason Abbott said.

The assault occurred in the prison's medical unit, Abbott said. Davis had been taken there after allegedly assaulting an officer earlier in the day, according to court records. The state dropped assault charges against the inmate in December.

Abbott said the officers beat Davis in two separate attacks about two minutes apart.

"It was an assault -- Boom! -- wait -- another assault," Abbott said. "The same people that were involved in the first assault were involved in the second assault."

On March 9, five other officers working the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift allegedly beat Davis again, Abbott said. Those defendants are Tyson T. Hinkle, 33, of Martinsburg, W.Va.; Lucas A. Kelly, 29, of Frostburg, Md.; Reginald Martin, 38, of Chambersburg, Pa.; Michael Morgan, 39, of Fort Ashby, W.Va.; and Justin Norris, 24, of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Abbott said he expects Kelly to be a cooperating witness for the state. He said Kelly will enter a plea at a hearing yet to be scheduled.

The other defendants' trials are set for June 15 and 16 except Morgan, who was granted a postponement due to unexplained family circumstances.

Defense lawyers argued for separate trials for each defendant.

"A jury will be inclined, when everybody is charged in a consolidated trial, to blanket find them all guilty," said Boozel's lawyer, D. Bruce Poole.

Attorney Alan L. Winik, representing Martin, said, "The spillover potential in a case like this, when all the defendants are correctional officers, is enormous."

But Judge Daniel P. Dwyer sided with Abbott, who insisted that consolidation would save time and money.

In an unrelated incident, six officers fired from the North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland have pleaded innocent to charges that they assaulted six inmates there on March 6, 2008. They are scheduled for pretrial hearings Tuesday.

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