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Ten years sought for Lincoln vote-fraud assault

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Prosecutors have asked a judge to impose a decade-long prison term on a man convicted earlier this year of assaulting federal agents who were questioning him in relation to a Lincoln County voting fraud scheme.

Citing a need to deter would-be criminals from attacking federal officers, assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas C. Ryan asked a judge to levy a 10-year prison sentence on James A. Matheny, according to a sentencing memorandum Ryan filed last week.

In May, a jury convicted Matheny, 61, of using a deadly weapon to assault FBI Special Agent Todd Berry and West Virginia secretary of state investigator James Wise, and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Berry and Wise had confronted Matheny on a gravel road outside his home in Midkiff and were attempting to question him about an absentee ballot linked to a broad investigation that has since led to the convictions of Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, County Commissioner Thomas Ramey and County Clerk Donnie Whitten. Over the last several months, the three men have admitted to a conspiracy to flood the 2010 Democratic Party primary with illegally obtained absentee ballots.

At one point during the questioning, Matheny threatened the agents with a pistol, prosecutors say.

"Neither man deserved to face the wrong end of a loaded weapon at the end of a gravel road in the farthest reaches of southern West Virginia," Ryan said in the memorandum, "especially since all they did was ask the defendant about his absentee ballot."

But the agents, who were dressed in plainclothes during the about 15-second confrontation, did not have a search warrant and never identified themselves as law enforcement officials. Also, Matheny drew his weapon only when the men advanced on him to show him some documents, his lawyer, Mark McMillian said in a separate filing.

McMillian said Matheny's conduct in the case amounts to a federal misdemeanor. McMillian also argued that the indictment accused Matheny of the same conduct for both the brandishing and assault charges, and violates the principals of double jeopardy.

Ryan asked U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston to impose the mandatory minimum sentence of seven years on the assault charge plus an additional three to four years on the brandishing charge.

According to Ryan, anything less than the minimum seven-year sentence on the assault charge "would unavoidably suggest that assaulting a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, generally viewed as an offense of the utmost seriousness, is in fact not so serious, after all."

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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