Whitesburg KY

Attorneys keep filing motions as venue change decision lingers in murder case

Defense and prosecuting attorneys continue to submit court filings as a special Letcher Circuit judge ponders whether the trial of two Pike County men charged in the January 1, 2014 stabbing death of a Kingscreek man should be moved out of Letcher County.

Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II submitted the latest of the documents filed in the state’s case against James R. Huffman IV and Patrick Smith, the two men accused of murdering Michael Hogg after a New Year’s celebration in downtown Whitesburg. It was filed July 27 after Banks received a four-page handwritten letter from a Letcher County Jail inmate claiming to have information that could affect the outcome of the trial of one of the defendants. The letter writer also claims to have overheard jailhouse threats being made against Banks and former Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright.

In a filing to Special Judge H. Kent Hendrickson of Harlan, Banks said the prosecution “does not intend to rely on the document for any reason at the present time,” and that he filed letter “solely in compliance” with a previous court order.

Banks has also filed a “motion to strike” from the court record the contents of an anonymous letter sent to defense attorneys in June by someone identifying his or herself as “Anonymous Virgo.”

The contents of the letter, filed with the court on July 5, are under seal and cannot be viewed by the public. In his motion filed July 13, Banks says the document consists of “two handwritten pages setting forth various false, slanderous, and totally self-serving accusations designed solely to improperly influence the court in rendering its decision in defendant (Huffman’s) motion for change of venue and to discredit the Commonwealth and its witnesses in the view” of Judge Hendrickson while the judge is deciding whether to grant the venue change.

Pikeville attorney Robert F. Wright has filed three recent motions on behalf of Huffman, each of them an attempt to persuade Judge Hendrickson to move the trial to another county.

On June 22, Wright filed a “supplement” to his earlier petition for a change of venue. In the motion, Wright asks Judge Hendrickson to take notice of an article attached that appeared in the June 15 edition of The Mountain Eagle. The article was a news account of a June 10 hearing ordered by Hendrickson to hear testimony on whether the trial should be moved.

On June 30, Wright filed a second “motion to supplement (his) motion for change of venue.” Attached to the second motion is a copy of a news article that appeared in the June 29 edition of The Mountain Eagle. That story, which appeared near the bottom of Page 3, quoted Hendrickson as saying in a June 22 hearing that he “didn’t see sufficient amount of proof telling me that I couldn’t have a fair trial over here.” No part of the June 22 or June 29 news stories contained any information concerning the guilt or innocence of Huffman or Smith.

In a July 18 filing, attorney Wright argued to Hendrickson that news coverage has been biased against Huffman and Smith. According to Wright, the prosecution has welcomed coverage “to have the facts of this case bleed into the community and tend to sway the minds of the potential jurors.”

Hendrickson has proposed trial dates of Oct. 3-7 and Oct. 10-14 for Huffman and Nov. 7-10 and Nov. 14-18 for Smith.

The two men are accused of stabbing Hogg to death after a dispute that occurred during New Year’s celebrations in downtown Whitesburg.

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