Supreme Court hears arguments at WVSU
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The public defender's office that represented a St. Albans man convicted of stabbing his sometimes-girlfriend to death had a conflict of interest with a witness in the case that should nullify the trial, the man's new lawyer argued Tuesday before the state Supreme Court.
Clayton Eugene "Gino" Rogers, 53, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2010 and a judge later sentenced him to life in prison. Prosecutors say Rogers stabbed Laura Amos twice in the neck because he was jealous of her involvement with another man. The two were drinking in an abandoned house just outside the St. Albans city limits.
State Supreme Court Justices Brent Benjamin, Margaret Workman, Menis Ketchum and Allen Loughry heard oral arguments Wednesday at West Virginia State University's James C. Wilson Union in front of a crowd packed mostly with students. The foray to the university is part of the court's efforts to generate interest in the state's appeals system.
Rogers' appeals lawyer, Crystal C. Walden, argued that the jury's guilty verdict should be overturned because the Kanawha County public defender's office, which was representing Rogers, also represented one of the state's key witnesses in the case on other felony charges.
The witness, Keith Hubbard, was with Clayton the day Amos was murdered.
Justices appeared to balk at that argument Wednesday, pointing out that the parties held a hearing on the issue during Rogers murder trial and that it's not clear that the conflict of interest affected the course of the trial or the evidence against Rogers.
"Do you really think that a new lawyer would have made a difference in the case?" Justice Margaret Workman said.
Walden also argued that Rogers was "likely in an alcohol-induced blackout" at the time of the killing and did not have the "intent" required to qualify his actions as first-degree murder. She also said that police purposefully delayed transporting Rogers to Kanawha County Magistrate Court for arraignment in order to persuade him to give a statement.
Assistant State Attorney General Benjamin F. Yancy III said that detectives followed the proper protocol after Rogers arrest and gave him a chance to tell his side of the story. Rogers, he said, voluntarily decided to do so.
Also Wednesday, the justices heard arguments in a Mineral County case in which a man argued he was wrongfully convicted of robbing a bank.
In October 2010, police arrested Charles Edward Bruffey in connection to a December 2009 robbery of an M&T bank in Fort Ashby.
Bruffey's lawyer, Nicholas T. James, argued that a judge improperly accepted evidence in the case that indicated that his client was responsible for a second bank robbery of the same bank several months after the December 2009 crime. Bruffey was a suspect in the second robbery, but had not been formally charged with the crime at the time of his trial in Sept. 2011, James said.
In addition, when Bruffey was arrested for the first robbery, he declined to give a statement to the police. Prosecutors repeatedly brought up that refusal during Bruffey's trial, which violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, James said.
A jury found Bruffey guilty and a judge later sentenced him to 10 to 20 years in prison. He is awaiting indictment on the second robbery charges.
Assistant State Attorney General Andy Mendelson said that the prosecutor's references to Bruffey's refusal to give a statement was not intended to call attention to his intentional silence, but to lay the foundation for other information that he gave investigators after they read him his rights.
For instance, after Bruffey said that he wanted to exercise his right to remain silent, he told one detective "I'm going to jail for a long time. You're a nice guy, but I think I should wait to talk to you about this."
"This statement was relevant at Bruffey's trial as a tacit admission of guilt," Mendelson said.
The justices will rule on both cases at a later date.
Reach Zac Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5189.