A jury has found Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton guilty on two counts of witness tampering stemming from the arrest of a suspect who claims he was beaten. The same jury Thursday night returned not guilty verdicts for two other law enforcement officers.
After eight hours of deliberations, a jury acquitted Eric Guffey on all four counts against him. Guffey helped subdue suspect Billy Stinnett who led Barren County officers on a dangerous car and foot pursuit on February 24, 2010. The officers were accused of using excessive force and covering it up to the FBI. Louisville Attorney Brian Butler represented Guffey and called the accusations against him shameful. Butler said if anything, his client was a hero that day.
"Eric Guffey stopped him from running through ditches, around roadblocks, and running citizens off the road," stated Butler. "If he wouldn't have had the foresight to block that road, there's no telling what would have happened in Barren county. And then Eric got out of that truck and ran after a meth head who was violent."
Also acquitted on all charges was Deputy Aaron Bennett, who was represented by Glasgow Attorney Buddy Alexander.
"It's obviously going to be closure for my client and his family. Chris' family is going to be in turmoil from now until August and possibly thereafter," said Alexander.
Sheriff Chris Eaton was charged in an eight-count federal indictment and was found guilty on two counts of witness tampering. He left the U.S. District Courthouse in Bowling Green without comment. He will be sentenced August 1 and faces up to 20 years in prison on each count.
Update at 10:30 p.m.: Jury finds Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton guilty on two counts of witness tampering. Deputy Aaron Bennett and Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey were acquitted on all counts.
The federal case against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and two other southern Kentucky law enforcement officers is now in the hands of a jury.
Eaton, Barren County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey face charges of beating a suspect who was already in custody, and then lying about it to federal investigators.
Lawyers for Bennett and Guffey finished their closing statements Thursday morning, telling jurors they would have to believe the testimony of Adam Minor in order to find their clients guilty. Minor is a former Barren County Sheriff's Deputy who was on the scene of the incident in 2010 when suspect Billy Stinnett was taken into custody.
Minor initially pleaded guilty to the same charges facing the three defendants, but later changed his plea and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
Minor told jurors he took part in the alleged beating of Stinnett, along with the other three. Minor said the beating continued even after Stinnett was placed in handcuffs and unable to defend himself.
Attorneys for the three defendants attacked Minor's credibility throughout the trial, pointing out he has admitted to previously lying under oath to a state court and grand jury.
Lead Prosecutor Sanjay Patel tried to refute those defense arguments Thursday, telling jurors Minor realized he was on a sinking ship and decided to come forward and tell what really happened. Patel also pointed out that what Minor told jurors in this trial is supported by multiple eye-witnesses.
The case against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and two other officers is expected to go to the jury Thursday. Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey are accused of beating a suspect and engaging in a cover-up.
Testimony ended in the week-and-a-half long trial with none of the officers testifying in their own defense.
In closing statements to the jury, Federal Prosecutor Roy Conn said three men sworn to uphold the law broke the law. He recanted eyewitness statements that suspect Billy Stinnett was on the ground in handcuffs, but the alleged assault continued.
The prosecution relied heavily on former deputy Adam Minor, who pleaded guilty to one charge and agreed to testify against the other officers.