CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Putnam County man must return immediately to prison to serve the rest of his term for the 1996 rape of his 5-year-old daughter, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Justices unanimously reversed a 2011 Putnam County judge's order allowing Joseph Lavigne Jr. of Hurricane, who had served 15 years of his sentence, to walk free on bond pending a new trial.
Justices ordered Lavigne, 54, to serve the rest of his 22- to 60-year prison sentence.
The high court reversed a May 2011 decision by now-retired Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding.
Citing trial errors and a lack of sufficient evidence, Spaulding vacated Lavigne's sentence and granted a new trial. He also allowed Lavigne to be released on $150,000 bond while he awaited trial.
The court found Spaulding "abused (his) discretion" by granting Lavigne a new trial without properly demonstrating constitutional errors in the original trial.
In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court disagreed with each of the points Spaulding used as grounds for his decision. Justices disagreed with his interpretations of alleged errors in the original case and said jurors had enough evidence to consider.
The decision, which was not signed, said Spaulding's decision did not give proper weight to the prosecution's credibility in the case.
Rather, it said Spaulding "sought instead to dismantle the theory upon which the State successfully prosecuted Mr. Lavigne."
"This Court is struck by the wholesale fashion in which the circuit court usurped the jury's function in this case," the decision said.