December 29, 2005
An ex-Wilson County Jail guard will testify against his former co-workers after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges in a hearing which saw him acknowledge his role in an inmate's death.
Former Cpl. Gary Hale stood impassively before a federal court judge with his hands clasped behind his back as he pleaded guilty to participating in a long-running conspiracy of beating prisoners and covering up the crimes by falsifying official reports and denying medical care to his victims.
Under terms of a plea agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell on Wednesday, the former jailer is required to provide "complete, truthful and accurate … assistance" to prosecutors in the January trial of his four alleged co-conspirators, all of whom were indicted in 2004 as a result of an 18-month federal investigation.
Hale becomes the fourth former jail guard to line up as a potential government witness when the trial begins next month. Three of four additional former jailers who pleaded guilty to charges filed by prosecutors during the course of the lengthy investigation are also expected to testify against their former colleagues.
Though he faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines on the conspiracy count of the indictment, Hale's guilty plea will likely result in federal prosecutors recommending a sentence of eight years, one month, the judge indicated from the bench. He also indicated Hale could be eligible for probation.
However, Campbell cautioned Hale just before he entered the guilty plea that his cooperation would not guarantee a lighter sentence.
"This is what the bottom line is — the government has made no promise to you," the judge said.
Hale pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges contained in the first count of an eight-count indictment. Remaining charges will be dropped under terms of the plea arrangement.
The defendant made his lengthiest statement of the day when Campbell asked if he understood the "complex" agreement with prosecutors.
"Yes sir, I do. We went over it quite a bit," he said, standing behind a podium along with defense attorney Peter Strianse.
In the hearing, Hale's attorney did not dispute a statement read by FBI Special Agent Scott Swallows in which the government claimed he and his four co-defendants "routinely" handed out jailhouse beatings — including one which left inmate Walter S. Kuntz dead in January 2003, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice investigation.
In the statement, the FBI placed the responsibility for the death of Kuntz, 43, squarely on the shoulders of Hale and former Sgt. Patrick Marlowe, the highest ranking ex-jailer charged in the probe.
In Swallows' statement he said the series of beatings "culminated" in "assaults by defendants Marlowe and Hale" on Kuntz in which the two "each forcefully struck Mr. Kuntz multiple times in his head."
"Mr. Kuntz lapsed into unconsciousness within hours of these assaults and died several days later of trauma-related brain injuries," the FBI agent's statement said.
Charged along with Hale and Marlowe were former guards Robert Locke, Robert Brian Ferrell and Tommy Shane Conatser. All remain free on bond pending their Jan. 10 trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks.
In Swallows' statement the FBI agent noted Hale and three of the co-defendants worked "under the direct supervision" of Marlowe and were "knowing" participants "in a pattern of physical abuse of inmates … at the direction of … Marlowe."
"More specifically, Hale and co-defendants … routinely participated with defendant Marlowe in striking, punching, kicking and otherwise assaulting inmates in circumstances that did not justify the use of force," the investigator's statement said.
The statement also echoed allegations contained in the indictment, which charged the five defendants falsified official reports to cover up the beatings and maintained an "oral knockout list" of prisoner/victims they had beaten unconscious.
The co-defendants "regularly informed and encouraged each other regarding their involvement" in the beatings, according to Swallows' statement, which said Marlowe also "coordinated" the falsifying of jail documents to cover up the alleged crimes.
The co-defendants "at the direction of and with the participation of defendant Marlowe, coordinated and submitted false, incomplete and misleading jail reports for the purpose of covering up these assaults," the FBI agent's statement said.
Following the hearing, Hale's attorney said the guilty plea was the "best resolution" for his client.
"I think that between the alternatives Gary faced this was really the best resolution," Strianse said. "This is the option that gave him the most control over his future."
Hale displayed no emotion during the hearing, answering "yes sir" several times in a firm voice as Campbell posed a series of questions from the bench in approving the agreement.
The judge scheduled a March 31 sentencing hearing for Hale.
Kuntz's sister, when contacted afterward, said the sentence gave her only a small measure of satisfaction.
"It won't bring my brother back," Tanya Thompson said. "They took my best friend."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former guard admits guilt
December 29, 2005