Kentucky Attorney General Investigating Contested Indictments
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Attorney General’s office is investigating at least 20 indictments in the 14th Circuit to determine whether they should be thrown out because prosecutors allowed too many grand jurors to vote. Kentucky law only requires nine votes to indict, so assembling more than 12 grand jurors could increase the chances of securing an indictment.
The Attorney General’s office sent a letter last week to Commonwealth lawyer Sharon Muse Johnson informing her of the investigation by the Office of Special Prosecutions, The Courier Journal reports. The letter said all further criminal proceedings for the cases under investigation should be stayed and that Muse Johnson’s office should “take no further action of any kind” regarding them.
The indictments under investigation include charges of murder in cases in Bourbon and Scott counties, charges of rape and simple possession of drugs. Karema Eldahan, managing attorney for the public defender’s office in Georgetown, said she expects many more motions challenging the indictments to be filed in the coming weeks.
“I’ve been practicing for nine years and I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Eldahan told the Courier Journal. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before. This is definitely uncharted waters.
The investigation by the attorney general’s office stems from allegations first raised late last year by former circuit judge Brian Privett, who accused Muse Johnson of recklessly handling presentations to the grand jury, some of which have up to 18 people.
Muse Johnson and her office have denied the allegations, but Circuit Judge Jeremy Mattox personally investigated two grand jury proceedings in February and obtained sworn affidavits from grand jurors showing at least 14 voted in one case and at least 13 in another.
In a letter to Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton, Mattox said he expects to be inundated with motions from defense attorneys in all three 14th counties. circuit during the three years that Muse Johnson was in office. Mattox asked the Chief Justice to appoint a special judge and Cameron to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation into those indictments.
Muse Johnson wrote to Minton and Cameron that she welcomed any investigation and would cooperate fully. She acknowledged that some grand jury deliberations included both 12 grand jurors and other alternate grand jurors. She said it was “based on my interpretations” of the rules.
“There was never any intention to deprive any defendant of his rights or to create a procedural error,” Muse Johnson wrote.
She said she didn’t think the attendance of the alternate grand jurors was a problem, as she was confident no more than 12 were voting on the indictments. She was surprised to learn that alternate grand jurors attested to voting on indictments.
“We stand ready to do whatever it takes to maintain confidence in the justice system,” she wrote, adding that prosecutors stand ready to represent all cases if necessary.