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Judge delays ex-guard's sentencing
Mar 21, 2005 12:00 am
A judge Thursday agreed to delay the sentencing hearing of a Wilson County Jail guard who has already pleaded guilty to charges resulting from a lengthy federal probe of the jail.
The granting of the motion to delay sentencing for ex-jailer William Westmoreland is widely believed to set the stage for him to testify against five former co-workers indicted on a wide array of conspiracy charges including beating inmates – one of them fatally – and then covering up the crimes by falsifying official incident reports and denying medical treatment to their prisoner/victims.
Westmoreland, one of four ex-guards who has already entered guilty pleas as a result of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation, was originally scheduled to undergo a sentencing hearing next month.
But U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell on Thursday approved a joint motion filed by defense attorney Gary Vandever and Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Cohen resetting Westmoreland's sentencing for Sept. 16 – some six weeks after the five indicted co-conspirators are to stand trial.
When asked if the move means his client will testify against his former co-workers, Vandever noted "the motion was filed jointly with the U.S. Attorney's office" but declined to comment further.
In addition to Westmoreland, ex-jailers John McKinney, Travis Bradley and Chris McCathern also pleaded guilty to charges filed by federal prosecutors before the indictment was returned against their former colleagues. Westmoreland pleaded guilty to assault-type charges while the others pleaded guilty to charges of lying to investigators and falsifying official reports.
McKinney is slated to sentenced May 20, McCathern on April 29 and Travis Bradley on June 20. Attorneys representing them late last year indicated they too expect delays in sentencing for their clients until after the trial concluded. Like Vandever, each of the attorneys declined comment when asked if they expect their clients to serve as government witnesses.
The trial for the five former guards under indictment – Patrick Marlowe, Gary Hale, Shane Conatser, Robert Locke and Robert Brian Ferrell – is slated for Aug. 30, according to a spokesperson in the U.S. District Court Clerk's office.
The indictment maintains the five administered brutal jailhouse beatings to a total of 11 inmates, among them Walter S. Kuntz, 43, whose head injury death led to the DOJ probe after being labeled a homicide following an autopsy.
Marlowe and Hale could conceivably face the death penalty if found guilty of the charges against Kuntz, likened in the indictment to a case of second-degree murder. A judge has set a May 10 deadline for federal prosecutors to reveal whether they intend to seek the ultimate punishment for the pair, both of whom hail from families prominent in local public service circles.
The remaining three face up to 10 years in prison each and fines of $250,000 apiece.
The indictment alleges as part of the conspiracy the five maintained an "oral knockout list" and would routinely "encourage each other by bragging about or re-enacting these assaults."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.