The good, the bad, the ugly: the Delmar Partin jury

I was mystified how any jury could convict a man with no physical evidence, no time to commit the murder, and clearly contradictory statements given by testifying witnesses.

I felt the jury had somehow been compromised.

Because I was not from the area, I knew I would have a hard time getting the people of Knox County to open up to me about any relationships these jurors might have had with people involved in this case. Under voir dire, prospective jury members are supposed to disclose any connections or ties to the defendant, the victims family, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, law enforcement, and witnesses:

People v. Cangiano, 131 Misc. 2d 930, 931 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1986) “One of the basic functions of voir dire is to determine whether any of the prospective jurors is related to or knows one of the parties or lawyers in the case or a prospective witness.”

So I went another direction.

First, the jury qualification form asks the potential jurors, ” Has a claim for $500 or more ever been made against you or a member of your family?” Mr. Ken Long had marked “no,” but court papers show he and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1991, with the case being closed in September of 1994, about a month after the end of the murder trial.

When prospective jurors gathered at the courthouse, the judge, Roderick Messer, under voir dire questioning, asked potential jury members if they, or a family member, have ever participated in a criminal case either as a witness, a defendant, or in any other capacity.

How many of them were truthful?

Take Joseph Kush. Married to C. Faye Kush, who was listed as a defendant on a federal tax evasion case filed in March of 1994, Kush would be chosen as a jury member for Delmar Partin’s trial in August of 1994.

Or Christine Branstutter Smith, also chosen as a jury member for the Partin trial. Her brother, Lewis Branstutter, was charged with attempted murder and robbery in 1984, then later was indicted in a fuel-tax fraud scheme in 1990. The December 11, 1990 Corbin Times Tribune newspaper states that the indictments in the scheme “resulted from a two-year investigation by the Kentucky State Police; the Internal Revenue Service; Tom Handy, commonwealth’s attorney for Knox and Laurel counties; and the U.S. attorney’s office.” Didn’t Tom Handy recognize the Branstutter name at any point during the jury selection process?

Neither Kush nor Branstutter Smith disclosed to the judge or attorneys during voir dire that they had relatives who indeed had been, or were, defendants in criminal cases. Why? In the end, these two jury members would be chosen as alternates and would not end up deciding Delmar Partin’s fate. However, it is still very troubling why they would not disclose these facts under voir dire when required to do so.

Juror Glenda Lickliter, however, was a seated jury member. Not only was she not truthful under voir dire questioning, ultimately leading to her seat on the jury, did she purposefully omit information on her jury qualification form in order to help secure that seat on the jury?

The jury qualification form asks potential jurors to “list all members of your immediate family by relationship.” Lickliter lists two daughters and a son.  But there is one son missing from her list: court records show he was charged with theft by unlawful taking in 1989. (At that time, he was living with his parents, according to the Kentucky State Police file.) Then, in December of 1993, he was charged again, this time with “theft by failure to make required disposition.” Why wasn’t his name included on the jury qualification form with his brother and sisters? Why didn’t Lickliter disclose this son had been involved in criminal cases when questioned under voir dire? 

Furthermore, Judge Roderick Messer asks potential jurors, “Have you or any of your family members been the victim of a crime?”

The same son that Lickliter failed to disclose to the judge and attorneys was involved in criminal cases, was also the victim in a “terroristic threatening” case filed in November of 1993. Lickliter never disclosed that information either.

It was clear Delmar Partin’s right to a fair jury trial was denied. Disclosing this information under voir dire would not have necessarily disqualified Lickliter from serving on the jury. What it did do, however, was prevent Delmar Partin’s defense attorneys from probing potential biases she may have had against someone in Partin’s position: biases formed by her own experiences she may have had in dealing with her son.

It would be three years after my initial research into Glenda Lickliter’s voir dire answers that I would unearth the most fascinating discovery of all about this juror: she and her husband are named in one Billy Don Giles’ obituary: they are called a “special brother and sister in Christ,” indicating a close friendship with Mr. Giles. Mr. Giles’ sister is Bonnie Sue Giles Anders, best friends with Karla Espinal, girlfriend-turned-federal-informant to well-known drug kingpin Jerry Allen Lequire, who spent 30 years in prison for a Columbian cocaine smuggling operation. You can learn more about Giles-Anders’ role in Jerry Allen Lequire’s formidable enterprise that amassed some $280,000,000 (never found), here.

Even though the connection between the Lickliter family and the Giles is stunning, it was not something that voir dire questioning would have predicated she disclose. Still, this connection is fascinating to me, because I had already started to discover other connections to both Lequire’s and Drew Thornton’s drug empires to the rats’ nest I had stumbled on in southeast Kentucky.

A good juror…

I had the pleasure of speaking with another juror by the name of Geraldine McNeil, who provided insight into the jury deliberation portion of the trial. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

“I felt it was wrong the whole time, and I was one lone person and I let them push me. I am so sorry. I worried about that forever after it was over, and I didn’t know what to do about it or anything. And I let the rest of them push me to get out of there because they wanted to leave and didn’t want to stay. I was young, I had no jury experience, and if I did wrong, I am so sorry. But I firmly believed that he was not guilty.

I asked her if anyone else in the jury room argued for his innocence, and she said she couldn’t remember, but stated, “I felt like everybody was against me. I felt I should have done something or said something, and I didn’t.”

Put yourself in Geraldine McNeil’s shoes. Was a lonely position to be in.

What if Geraldine McNeil had had an ally in her fight for Partin’s innocence? What if fellow juror Glenda Lickliter’s seat had been filled by someone who was honest under voir dire questioning, someone who didn’t want to send an innocent man to prison, someone who was interested in the truth and not getting home to their own bed? Partin’s fate would most likely have been very, very different than we find it today.

25 years of a man’s life has been taken from him, dishonestly and unjustly.

The problem with wrongful convictions in southeast Kentucky goes well beyond corrupt police officers. This corruption is at the very core of the justice system in southeast Kentucky. How many juries in Knox and Laurel counties over the last 44 years were comprised of people who were not truthful under voir dire questioning? I would wager it is more the norm, than the exception.

The son of Robert Cato made an interesting point in his father’s obituary. (Robert Cato was a defense attorney, at times to organized crime figures. He was also a very good friend of Tom Handy and Judge Roderick Messer.) Cato’s son said this about his father:

“He enjoyed the fact that when you picked a jury in Eastern Kentucky, last names mean something.”

 

 

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