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State Supreme Court launches inquiry into Webster's docket

By From staff reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Saying that she might be to blame for the premature release of a jail inmate accused of trying to kidnap a baby, the state Supreme Court has ordered an inquiry into Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster's docket.

Kanawha officials disagree over who is responsible for releasing Jeremy Carter, who was being held on a charge of attempted kidnapping, from South Central Regional Jail last Thursday.

In a three-page statement issued Sunday, Webster laid the blame on a worker in Circuit Clerk Cathy Gatson's office.

Gatson and Kanawha Prosecutor Mark Plants told the Daily Mail on Monday that they didn't agree. 

"The clerk was just doing what the judge said," Plants said.

Gatson stood behind her staff and said Webster prepared the case dismissal without a representative of the prosecutor's office present.

An administrative order handed down by the high court Tuesday also directs Steve Canterbury, court administrator, to inquire into the procedures used in Gatson's office.

It authorizes Canterbury to initiate an official inquiry "matters related to the administration of the docket of the Honorable Carrie Webster, Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, including but not limited to the procedures of Judge Webster's office and the office of the Circuit Clerk of Kanawha County, to ensure that fair and appropriate standards of procedure are being maintained, and to report the same to the Supreme Court of Appeals."

Canterbury said it's too early to tell what the inquiry might turn up. He said it could end quickly with nothing found or it could lead to an investigation by the Judicial Investigation Commission.

"All I know at this point is that there was an erroneous release, which implies there was an error," Canterbury said. "Who, what, well we know when, and perhaps why, remains to be seen."

He said Webster's letter was interesting and "very telling," but that it was his job to look into what really happened. 

Canterbury said to his knowledge there have been no other cases like this in the state.

"It's seems a little too complicated to reduce to a sound bite," he said.

The administrator said as part of his inquiry he would speak to Webster and Gatson and anyone else they would direct him to. His findings would then go back to the Supreme Court.

Calls to Webster's and Gatson's offices were not immediately returned." target="_blank">Carter was arrested Monday after a search that lasted nearly four days. Police found him sleeping on a couch in a Riverside Drive home in South Charleston and said he pretended not to know they had been searching for him.

There were others in the home at the time of the arrest, and South Charleston Sgt. P.C. Rader said they also could face charges.

Webster signed a Feb. 28 order that apparently was interpreted to mean Carter's case had been dismissed. In her prepared statement, however, she said that isn't what she intended.

Carter walked free, despite the fact that no one had paid his $150,000 surety bond. Webster at first took full responsibility for the mix-up but later issued the statement blaming someone in Gatson's office.

"Upon further review and consideration of this matter, the Court concludes that Mr. Carter's release resulted from a mistake made on the Jail Release Form, which incorrectly stated that Case Number 12-F-2685 (the attempted kidnapping charge) was dismissed," part of the statement said.

Webster was apparently trying to clear her docket of inactive cases. She also mistakenly dismissed charges against Gary Wayne Mullens, who was convicted last year of kidnapping a senior citizen and taking money from him. Mullens, however, was not released and remains in jail.

Plants said Carter suffers from a mental illness. He is accused of trying to unbuckle and remove a baby from a mother's stroller. The mother fought with him and was able to get the baby from him and into a family member's car, according to a criminal complaint.

Carter allegedly then tried to pull the baby from the vehicle. When police arrived, they had to take him to the ground, according to the complaint.


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