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Trial set to begin for correctional officers charged with assault

September 14, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Two former Roxbury Correctional Institution officers are scheduled for a jury trial beginning Tuesday morning in Washington County Circuit Court. Both face charges of second-degree assault in the March 2008 beating of an inmate then held at the medium-security prison south of Hagerstown.

The trial for Robert Harvey, 63, of Hagerstown, and Keith Morris, 27, of Warfordsburg, Pa., is scheduled to last four days, but attorneys in the case said on Monday that the trial might be longer.

A third man, Scott Boozel, 28, of McConnellsburg, Pa., had been scheduled to be tried alongside Harvey and Morris, also on the charge of second-degree assault, but his case has been separated from those being tried this week. There is no date set for his trial.

The charges have their roots in a March 8, 2008, incident in which Timothy Mellott, 23, one of the officers who pleaded guilty, went to check on inmate Kenneth Davis in his cell and Davis allegedly struck Mellott in the face. Davis was taken to a holding cell in the Administrative Segregation Intake Area (ASIA), where prosecutors allege the attacks happened.

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Prosecutors allege that Davis, who is expected to testify during this week's trial, was beaten four times over three shifts at the prison beginning March 8, 2008. Harvey and Morris worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift March 8, court records show.

At issue during a pretrial motions hearing Monday was a set of photos taken after the alleged beatings. Photographs of Davis taken March 8 are not in dispute.

Defense attorneys for Harvey and Morris argued that photographs taken March 9, several shifts after their clients had been at the prison, that show a severely beaten Davis could prejudice the jury against their clients.

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Jason Abbott said prosecutors do not intend to use the photographs to accuse Morris and Harvey of being responsible for the "end result," but to bolster Davis' credibility when he testifies that he was beaten.

Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III said he agreed the photographs might be prejudicial if they show injuries that are a lot more severe than the March 8 photographs show. Prosecutors may use the photographs during their rebuttal if Davis' credibility is called into question, he said.

Twenty-three officers were fired from RCI and North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md., in April 2008 amid abuse allegations. An additional two Roxbury officers were fired but reinstated.

Nine officers initially were charged in February with second-degree assault.

Two of the officers pleaded guilty in May and agreed to testify during the trials of their former colleagues.

Charges were dropped in June against one of the officers, leaving six cases to be adjudicated.

A trial was held in June for Boozel, but the judge declared a mistrial after the jury sent him a note saying it was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of a not-guilty verdict but could not make a unanimous decision.

In a June 4 decision, an administrative law judge reversed the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services decision to fire Boozel from his job at RCI. Boozel is working for the Division of Correction, but not at Roxbury, a prisons spokesman said Monday.

Dustin Norris, 25, and Tyson Hinkle, 34, both of Martinsburg, W.Va., and Michael Morgan, 39, of Fort Ashby, W.Va., are scheduled for trial Oct. 5 to 7, according to court records online.

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