Special Grand Jury and Special Prosecutor Called for Beating of Greenbrier County Prosecutor

From today’s Beckley Register-Herald:

Special jury called for prosecutor beating

By Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

LEWISBURG — A Greenbrier County judge has ordered a special grand jury to convene next month to decide if a sheriff’s deputy will be indicted for allegedly beating county prosecutor Kevin Hanson last year during a front yard altercation.

Special prosecutor Dan Dotson of Braxton County filed a motion in circuit court last week and Judge James J. Rowe issued the order Friday for a special grand jury to convene March 18. The order also states that no member of the February grand jury, which meets today, may be called for the special grand jury.

Dotson said a special grand jury was necessary because the victim in the case, Hanson, presents evidence for indictments to the regular county grand jury.

Deputy Kevin Sawyers, a seven-year veteran of the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s department, has been charged by State Police with unlawful wounding stemming from an altercation with Hanson last August.

Dotson said up to 25 citizens may be called upon to comprise the 16-person jury. At least 12 jurors must vote that probable cause exists that a crime has been committed in order to “return a true bill” or indictment.

“The people that will hear the case must not have any ties to the recent grand jury,” Dotson said by phone Monday.

Names for grand jury lists come from DMV and tax records, as well as voting registration lists, Dotson said.

During a grand jury, prosecutors normally question the arresting officer and present evidence about the alleged crime. Rules of evidence are not followed and hearsay is allowed during a grand jury.

The accused may also testify in front of a grand jury, which is rare, but it must be done outside the presence of his or her lawyer. Judges give instructions to grand juries about the elements of a crime, but are not present during any questioning.

In September, a misdemeanor battery charge was upgraded to the felony charge of unlawful wounding against Sawyers.

Hanson, the county’s prosecutor since 2001, spent several days in a local hospital recovering from his injuries. He has not been charged in the incident.

Dotson said Hanson suffered a broken nose, separated shoulder, bruises, swelling, lacerations and abrasion from Sawyers’ attack.

The criminal complaint filed by Princeton State Trooper Sgt. M.R. Crowder states Sawyers, 37, “arrived at his estranged wife’s residence” on Aug. 2 and found Hanson “in the driveway area.”

Sawyers had previously filed for divorce from his wife, who is employed as a legal assistant at the county prosecutor’s office.

Sawyers’ defense attorney, Tom Czarnik, could not be reached for comment Monday. Sawyers remains free on $2,500 bond and was placed on paid administrative leave from his job pending the resolution of his charges.

If convicted, Sawyers faces a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Note: My guess would be that this case will go to trial – before a jury. A couple of things to point out: here you have a 7-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department beating up the elected prosecutor. He was initially charged with misdemeanor battery, but the charges were upgraded to a felony after a “special” prosecutor was brought in on the case. Much like cops, prosecutors don’t take too kindly to one of their own getting attacked. You have to wonder if the everyday bar fight – albeit with injuries requiring hospitalization – brings a felony charge. I haven’t seen very many of those. Misdemeanor battery will probably be offered as a plea, but if he takes it he surely will lose his job. Thus, I think this case will go to trial. Historically, the husband-beats-up-other-man-with-wife defense has faired pretty well before juries – even in murder cases. Furthermore, this defendant is an Iraq war veteran, and probably a pretty sympathetic guy. I give him a good shot at being acquitted. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

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