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Third trial begins in RCI inmate beating case

October 05, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Jurors in the trial of three correctional officers fired from Roxbury Correctional Institution in 2008 were shown photographs Monday of a badly beaten inmate during the trial's first day in Washington County Circuit Court.

Tyson Hinkle, 34, Dustin Norris, 25, and Michael Morgan, 39, each faces a charge of second-degree assault in connection with an alleged assault March 9, 2008, on former RCI inmate Kenneth Davis.

Detective Mark Forrest of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, one of the state's witnesses Monday, took the photographs March 9, 2008, while Davis was being treated at the Washington County Hospital emergency room.

The photographs were admitted into evidence Monday, despite defense objections.

Davis has alleged he was assaulted by officers on three different shifts: the March 8, 2008, 3 to 11 p.m. shift; the following shift; and the March 9, 2008, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.

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Hinkle, Norris and Morgan were working the March 9 shift, records indicate.

Under questioning by attorney Michael Noonan, who represents Morgan, Forrest said it is impossible to know which of Davis' injuries occurred when.

Keith Morris and Robert Harvey, two former officers accused of assaulting Davis during the March 8 shift, were acquitted of second-degree assault Sept. 18 by a Washington County Circuit Court jury.

Those charges had their roots in a March 8, 2008, incident in which correctional officer Timothy Mellott went to check on Davis in his cell on the housing tier and the inmate allegedly struck Mellott in the face. Davis was taken to a holding cell in the medical dispensary, where prosecutors alleged he was attacked.

Scott Boozel, another officer accused of assaulting Davis on March 8, 2008, in that holding cell, saw his trial declared a mistrial in June after the jury couldn't reach a verdict.

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Jason Abbott said during his opening statement Monday that Hinkle, Norris, Morgan and other officers later went into a cell where Davis was taken in the prison's Administrative Segregation Intake Area (ASIA).

They heard Davis had assaulted a correctional officer the day before, and they wanted to teach the inmate a lesson, Abbott told the jury.

Lucas Kelly, whose name also appeared as Lucas Kelley in court documents, got a van to take everyone to the building where Davis was being held, Abbott said.

Kelly in May pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. As part of the plea agreement, Kelly agreed to testify for the state in its case against the other officers.

"Kelly didn't want to tell on his coworkers, but his conscience got the better of him," Abbott told the jury Monday.

Davis, who had been beaten on previous shifts was inside the cell, lying on the floor, Abbott said. Part of his body was under the bunk, his eyes were swollen and he could barely see, Abbott said.

As the officers were beating him, Davis made no attempt to defend himself because he couldn't, Abbott said.

The state's first witness, RCI Capt. Michael Leigh, said he saw Davis at 8:15 a.m. March 9. Davis had been called at home the day before, after the alleged assault by the inmate on an officer, and had been asked to interview Davis the next day, he testified.

By the time he saw Davis, the inmate had severe facial trauma, both eyes were black and blue, and dried blood was on the collar of his jumpsuit, Leigh testified. Davis was unrecognizable, he said.

Hinkle was the officer assigned to the ASIA area, but the others had no reason to be in that area of the prison, Abbott said.

RCI Security Chief Richard Miller, under questioning from Abbott, said he tried to review the security tapes from the ASIA area, but the tapes had no images on them.

While questioning other witnesses, defense attorneys attempted to show that Norris and Morgan were segregation officers who, while normally assigned to Housing Unit 5, were allowed in other areas of the prison as part of their escort duties.

Defense attorney George Knight, who represents Hinkle, told the jury in his opening statement to pay close attention to the time sequence of the alleged events of March 9, 2008. He also urged the jurors to consider the motivation of state witnesses.

"You don't have a change of heart to protect others. You do it to protect yourself," Knight said.

In his opening statement, Noonan also tried to cast doubt on the timeline. The alleged beating occurred close to 7 a.m., and could have happened on the previous shift, he said. Morgan did not know the officer whom Davis allegedly assaulted and had no reason to seek revenge, Noonan said.

Jury selection on Monday took more than two hours. Several potential jurors said they were familiar with the case either because of information they got from the media or from talking to acquaintances who work at the prison.

Other potential jurors told Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. they have family members who work at the prisons south of Hagerstown and therefore could not be fair and impartial.

The trial is expected to resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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