MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Prosecutors preparing for a federal civil rights trial later this month say they will present evidence that shows a West Virginia sheriff accused of beating a bank robbery suspect has abused his power before - and gotten away with it.
Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg show that the evidence includes testimony Jefferson County Sheriff Robert Shirley gave during a 2004 sentencing hearing in an unrelated case. A transcript reveals Shirley admitted firing a gun while on duty during a personal dispute with another man.
That transcript, which shows the shooting never resulted in criminal charges or prosecution, "is evidence of defendant's readiness to abuse the power of his position," Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Camilletti wrote in a notice filed with the court last week.
Shirley's attorney, Kevin Mills, now wants the trial postponed so he can survey the potential jury pool and determine whether he should seek to have the case moved to another circuit. Besides ignoring Shirley's "long history of dedicated community service," Mills said, the government's filing and media coverage about it could compromise his client's right to a fair trial.
His motion calls the proposed evidence "highly inflammatory and presumably inadmissible."
"The result of this public filing is a poisoning of the pool of potential jurors right before the jury is slated to be picked," Mills wrote, adding that witnesses will now have to be re-interviewed.
"There are a myriad of prejudicial effects flowing from the government waiting until the eve of trial to dump all this information into the local and national presses," Mills argued.
Prosecutors could have opted for a closed filing, Mills said, to let the court rule on admissibility of the evidence "but for reasons unknown to the defense, they chose not to."
Shirley is accused of kicking and stomping Mark Daniel Haines after a December 2010 police chase and falsifying records during a subsequent investigation.
Judge John Preston Bailey has scheduled Shirley's criminal trial for Jan. 22 in Martinsburg. A separate civil lawsuit is tentatively scheduled to be tried this fall.