Kentucky attorney general probing challenged indictments
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Attorney General’s office is investigating at least 20 indictments in the 14th Circuit to determine if they should be dismissed because prosecutors allowed too many grand jurors to vote. Kentucky law requires only nine votes to indict, so impaneling more than 12 grand jurors could increase the odds of obtaining an indictment.
The Attorney General’s office sent a letter last week to Commonwealth Attorney Sharon Muse Johnson, informing her of the investigation by the Office of Special Prosecution, The Courier Journal reported. The letter said that all further criminal proceedings for the cases under investigation should be stayed and Muse Johnson’s office should “take no further action of any kind” on them.
The indictments under investigation include murder charges in cases in Bourbon and Scott counties, felony rape charges and simple drug possession. Karema Eldahan, directing attorney for the public defender’s office in Georgetown, said she expects many more motions challenging indictments to be filed in the coming weeks.
“I’ve been practicing for nine years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Eldahan told The Courier Journal. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before. It’s definitely unchartered waters.”
The Attorney General’s office investigation stems from allegations first raised late last year by Former Circuit Judge Brian Privett, who accused Muse Johnson of recklessly handling grand jury presentations, including some to as many as 18 people.
Muse Johnson and her office denied the allegations, but Circuit Judge Jeremy Mattox personally investigated two grand jury proceedings in February and obtained sworn affidavits from grand jurors showing at least 14 had voted in one case and at least 13 in another.
In a letter to Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton, Mattox said he expects to be inundated with motions from defense attorneys in the three counties of the 14th Circuit for the three years Muse Johnson has been in office. Mattox requested the chief justice appoint a special judge and Cameron appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation of these indictments.
Muse Johnson wrote to Minton and Cameron that she welcomed any investigation and would fully cooperate. She acknowledged that some grand jury deliberations included both 12 grand jurors and additional alternate grand jurors. She said that was “based on my interpretations” of the rules.
“There was never any intent to deprive a defendant of their rights or to create any procedural error,” Muse Johnson wrote.
She said she did not think it was an issue for the alternate grand jurors to be present because she was confident no more than 12 were voting on indictments. She was surprised to learn that alternate grand jurors attested to voting on indictments.
“We are willing to do whatever it takes to continue confidence in the justice system,” she wrote, adding that prosecutors were ready to re-present all cases if needed.
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