WILLIAMSON — “The acts of this juror placed the lives of police officers in danger, as well as the lives of our undercover informants and the other jurors who served on the January Grand Jury,” commented Mingo County Drug Task Force Commander Dave Rockel, as he was speaking with the Daily News about the arrest and sentencing of Leanna Richardson, 21, of Marrowbone, who will spend the next ten days in the Southwestern Regional Jail at Holden.
Richardson is accused of tipping off several individuals who had been charged in sealed drug indictments in January of this year, giving them a warning and a heads up that they were going to be arrested.
“When a juror is first seated, Judge Thornsbury emphasizes and stresses the importance of keeping silent about anything and everything that is discussed during the testimonies heard by the grand jury,” said Rockel. “What Leaana Richardson did could have easily ended in a very bad way for all of us. The defendants that she disclosed information to could have easily been lying in wait for us when we arrived to place them under arrest. We believe that we potentially lost evidence and drugs that were either destroyed or moved to another location because they were enlightened by Richardson that they had been indicted.”
“There are ruled and guidelines you have to follow when you serve on a jury,” stated Eugene Crum, Sheriff of Mingo County. “They are plainly told that in no uncertain terms are they to disclose information pertaining to these cases, and furthermore, if they are approached by someone that enquires who has been indicted or asking for details about the testimony provided to the jurors by officers or members of the public, they have to disclose that fact to the court immediately, which Ms. Richardson did not.”
The Final Order of Direct Contempt, Sentencing and Commitment Order filed in this matter by the Honorable Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury reads as follows:
This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Contempt Citation and Order of Show Cause, directing Leanna Richardson to appear before this court and show why she should not be incarcerated for contempt for failure to maintain the secrecy of grand jury proceedings. A hearing was held on the 19th day of Febraury, 2013, at which Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks appeared. Ms. Richardson failed to appear and the bailiff called her name trice. Ms. Richardson was properly served with the contempt citation and Order of Show Cause.
Finding of Fact: Ms. Richardson was a member of the January 2013 Mingo County Grand Jury. During orientation of the Grand Jury the court directed the members, including Ms. Richardson, that as a matter of public policy, the proceedings before you are secret, you are not to discuss the business transacted before you and you are not to reveal how any member of the grand jury voted. If any person tries or attempts to get information from you regarding the activities and deliberations of this grand jury, you are to advise me immediately and that person with be dealt with in accordance with the law. Without secrecy, the use and effectiveness of a grand jury would soon disappear.
The court instructed the grand jurors in detail with regard to the necessity of the secrecy and the reasons therefore. Subsequently, the court learned that at least two (and perhaps several) defendants were warned of their sealed indictments by one of the grand jurors. The court them admonished the entire grand jury that the law required that all proceedings of the grand jury be secretive, prior to the return of the indictments. Ms. Richardson failed to disclose contact with a defendant either prior to or during the admonishment. Later that same day, Ms. Richardson approached the court and disclosed that she had been approached by Dawn Marcum (the subject of a sealed indictment) about the Grand Jury proceedings. Subsequent thereto, defendant Emery Marcum, the husband of Dawn Marcum who was also indicted, left the jurisdiction. Two defendants have admitted that Ms. Richardson warned Dawn Marcum of the return of their scaled indictments.
The court order stated that it is the policy of the law to preserve inviolate the secrecy of proceedings before the grand jury, and the discussion of evidence before them, relating to an alleged crime. It further states that a grand juror shall not disclose matters occurring before the grand jury, except where otherwise provided for in the rules, and that a knowing violation of Rule 6 may be punished as a contempt of court. This policy is in place for many reasons, including but not limited to prevent personal risk to witnesses; to prevent risk of flight of criminal defendants; protect law enforcement; protect grand jurors from having their vote disclosed; and to also prevent risk of evidence being lost.
The court found that Ms. Richardson was in direct contempt of the rules contained in the WV Rules of Criminal Procedure and was also found guilty of failing to appear for her court hearing in this matter. Therefore, the court ruled that the defendant shall be incarcerated for 10 days in jail and was removed from the courtroom and transported to the Southwestern Regional.
“I applaud Judge Thornsbury for his ruling today,” said Sheriff Crum. “I trust this will send a message to all jurors who will be called to serve in the future that the necessity of secrecy is not something that is taken lightly. If you don’t obey the rules – you will go to jail.”
Commander Rockel remarked that when you are seated on a jury, you are faced with more than a civic duty; you are trusted with the security of Mingo County.
“We hope this never happens again but if it does, they can’t say they weren’t forewarned of what the consequences will be.”
After researching this matter, Asst. Prosecuting Attorney Justin Marcum, who also serves as a House of Delegates member for the 20th District, has chosen to introduce and sponsor a bill to his fellow delegates and senators during the 2013 legislative session that proposes a change in the law that governs this particular offense, and is asking that it become a misdemeanor charge.
“This offense should be held to a stricter sentencing that what is currently on the books,” said Marcum. “I’m introducing a law that would change it to a misdemeanor charge that would carry a stiffer penality, which it so rightly deserves.”
Further information regarding this case and the bill Delegate Marcum plans to introduce will be published as it becomes available.