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Conviction upheld in beating of hitchhiker

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of James Lee Fields, a 40-year-old Letcher County man who was found guilty in beating a hitchhiker on November 16, 2003.

Fields was found guilty of second degree assault and complicity to commit first-degree robbery in the beating of Collin Rogers, a hitchhiker that Coley Brown, a friend of Fields, had picked up as a passenger in Letcher County while Brown was on his way to Virginia. Rogers had offered to pay Brown $3 for a ride.

After the three had picked up a case and a half of beer in Virginia, Fields drove to the home of Brown’s ex-wife. Fields became suspicious when he saw Rogers talking secretly with the ex-wife and tried to leave. Brown and Fields ordered Rogers to get back into the vehicle and when he hesitated, Brown told Rogers he had Mace and a rifle in his trunk and would spray Rogers if he didn’t get in the vehicle.

Fields then told Rogers he was going to teach him a lesson. They drove to a nearby cemetery where they frisked Rogers for weapons, checked his backpack and looked through his wallet. Then they let Rogers out of the vehicle. Fields asked Rogers for a couple of beers as Rogers started to leave. Rogers returned to the car with a few beers but Fields demanded a different brand of beer. Fields got out of the vehicle and started beating Rogers after he ignored Fields and didn’t bring him the beer he wanted.

During the scuffle, Rogers taunted Fields by telling him, “his daughter could hit harder than (Fields) could.” Fields yelled for Brown to come help him and Brown hit Rogers with a lug wrench. Fields then told Brown to get Rogers’s wallet. Brown hit Rogers again with the lug wrench as Rogers reached for his wallet. Fields and Brown told Rogers they were going to bash his head in with the lug wrench and kill him.

Believing they would kill him if they got his wallet, Rogers threw the wallet into some nearby bushes and Fields and Brown left Rogers to search for the wallet. A passerby heard Rogers cry for help and took him to a hospital. Several days later Rogers identified Fields from a photo line up.

Fields was sentenced in Letcher Circuit Court to 15 years in prison on the robbery conviction and 10 years on the assault conviction, with the terms to be served consecutively.

Fields appealed the conviction, arguing double jeopardy and defects with the indictment and jury instructions. Fields argued on appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals that his trial lawyer was ineffective and that the court erred when it denied his request for appointed counsel and a hearing.

The Court of Appeals said a defendant cannot rely on vague allegations that counsel failed to investigate or call additional witnesses but must offer specifics as to what such investigation would have revealed or such witnesses would have said to support his motion.

Fields said his attorneys did not present evidence at the trial that Rogers threw his wallet into the woods, making it impossible for Fields or Brown to complete the robbery.

The Court of Appeals ruled that failure to complete a theft does not negate the charge of robbery or of complicity to commit robbery.

Fields also said his trial lawyer failed to investigate or present evidence that Fields was receiving Social Security disability benefits based on “his level of intelligence equating to that of mental retardation.”

The Court of Appeals said Fields offered only his own statements in regard to his claim of mental retardation.

“He has not offered any documentation that would support his mental condition either at the time of the crime, before the crime, or after the crime,” the Court of Appeals wrote in its opinion.

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