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Three former RCI correctional officers found not guilty in assault

October 07, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

o Witness transportation issues plagued assault trial

HAGERSTOWN -- Three former correctional officers were found not guilty Wednesday of second-degree assault in a March 2008 beating of an inmate at Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown.

"It's a long time waiting," Tyson Hinkle, 34, one of the officers, said after the verdict was read in Washington County Circuit Court.

Dustin Norris, 25, and Michael Morgan, 39, also were acquitted of the charges Wednesday.

The jury deliberated about an hour and 15 minutes, following a fitful three-day trial.

Problems arose Tuesday concerning the transportation of the victim, former Roxbury Correctional Institution inmate Kenneth Davis.

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Jason Abbott told the jury Monday during opening statements it would hear from Davis, but officials were not able to transport Davis from where he is being held in Connecticut, Abbott told Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. on Wednesday.

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Defense attorneys presented no witnesses Wednesday and rested their case shortly after the state rested Wednesday morning.

Davis 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.

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

Prosecutors allege that Hinkle, Norris, Morgan and other officers went to a cell in the Administrative Segregation Intake Area (ASIA) at the beginning of the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift March 9, 2008, and found Davis lying on the floor. As the officers beat him, he made no attempt to defend himself because he couldn't, Abbott said Monday.

Correctional Sgt. Joshua Hummer testified Wednesday that he was in the ASIA area the morning of March 9, 2008, searching for gloves he lost during a special operations transport assignment a few days earlier. He testified that he saw Hinkle crouching near Davis inside the inmate's cell, Morgan standing near the cell and Norris leaving the cell.

He testified that he also saw Reginald Martin, an officer who initially was charged with second-degree assault, in the ASIA. Prosecutors dropped the charge against Martin in June.

During closing arguments, the defense attempted to discredit the state's primary witness, Lucas Kelly, a former RCI officer who pleaded guilty in May to second-degree assault and agreed to testify against his fellow officers.

Kelly testified Tuesday that on March 9, 2008, officers were informed during roll call that Davis had assaulted correctional officer Timothy Mellott. Kelly described himself, Morgan and Norris as "very disgruntled" by the news.

They decided to make a trip to the ASIA to make an example of Davis, Kelly testified. He drove a van, with Morgan and Norris inside, to the building that houses the ASIA, Kelly testified.

Hummer testified that he did not see Kelly in the ASIA that day.

During his closing argument, defense attorney Timothy Conlon, who represented Norris, called Kelly "absolutely arrogant." He focused on Kelly's first statement to police, in which he denied knowing anything about an assault.

"He told something untrue to police officers," Conlon said.

Defense attorney Michael Noonan, who represented Morgan, in his closing argument called Kelly "an admitted liar" and said Kelly's statements were "bought testimony" because of the plea deal with the state.

"I think he was allergic to the truth," Noonan said.

Noonan also questioned Kelly's assertion that Morgan kicked Davis in the groin. Kelly testified that was the last blow to the inmate before the officers left the cell that morning.

Davis would have gone into the fetal position to protect himself, Noonan said.

"The one thing men protect is their groin," Noonan told the jury.

During his closing argument, Abbott questioned why anyone would think Kelly made up a story to implicate his former colleagues.

Kelly pleaded guilty, lost his job and moved to Wyoming, Abbott said.

He also stressed the case wasn't against all correctional officers.

"We need them, respect them and know it's a job not all of us could do," Abbott told the jury. "Just like in any profession, some can go astray."

Keith Morris and Robert Harvey, two former RCI officers accused of assaulting Davis during the March 8, 2008, shift, were acquitted of second-degree assault Sept. 18.

Morris was present throughout this week's trial, and after the verdict was read congratulated his former co-workers, even hugging Morgan.

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