Special Letcher Circuit Judge Kent Hendrickson says he is inclined to keep the murder trials of two men charged in the 2014 stabbing death of 24-yearold Michael Shane Hogg in Letcher County.
Citing an abundance of pretrial publicity, James Huffman’s attorney Robert Wright filed a motion asking Hendrickson, the circuit judge in Harlan County, to order Huffman’s trial in the Hogg murder case moved to another county. Wright, of Pikeville, issued subpoenas to 52 potential witnesses for the June 10 hearing addressing Huffman’s motion for a change of venue. Wright called six Letcher County residents to the witness stand for either “liking” or commenting on an online petition appearing on Facebook that called for keeping the trials of James Huffman and Patrick Smith in Letcher County.
While Wright tried to prove that an impartial jury can’t be paneled in Letcher County, Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks tried to show that at least 40 percent of the 24,500 people who live in Letcher County don’t have Internet access and may not know much about the murder case to have formed an opinion of innocence or guilt.
Ben Gish, editor of The Mountain Eagle; Tina Whitaker with the News-Press and Ryan Adams, assignment editor with WYMT-TV in Hazard, were also subpoenaed by Wright for the hearing to produce circulation totals and news stories. Because Adams didn’t attend the June 10 hearing, Hendrickson ordered a “show cause” hearing for June 22 for Adams to show cause why he shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for failing to honor a subpoena.
“First of all you shouldn’t ignore subpoenas, any kind of subpoenas,” Henrickson said during the hearing on June 22. “In the future when you are dealing with subpoenas you respond to the court and object to the court. You don’t work out private deals because that won’t work.”
Hendrickson told WYMT’s counsel, Mark Flores of Frost Brown Todd, LLC, that Adams has until the end of this week to provide the defense attorneys, prosecutors and Hendrickson with DVDs containing all WYMT stories concerning the Hogg murder case that were broadcast in the past two and a half years. Flores said Adams will comply.
“I didn’t see sufficient amount of proof telling me that I couldn’t have a fair trial over here,” said Hendrickson. “I’m going to look at [the DVDs] before I make a final decision and see if that changes my mind. That’s where we stand right now.”
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.