May 28, 2013

Phelps to face October trial

Charged with sex abuse of minor

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A former school administrator faces an October trial for alleged sexual abuse against a 17-year-old while he was employed with the school system.

Charles Douglas Phelps, the former director of pupil personnel for the Laurel County School District, was in Laurel Circuit Court last Friday with his attorney to answer to the newest development in the case in which he is accused of having sexual contact with a 17-year-old girl in November 2011.

Phelps was indicted in January 2012 on a five-count indictment that involved having sexual contact with a then-14-year-old girl on two occasions in November. Those charges were dismissed after Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele received an audiotape of the girl admitting she lied about the incident.

While Steele said he “had no other choice” but to ask for a dismissal of the first four charges involving the 14-year-old, he did ask for an abeyance of the fifth count of the indictment, which involved the 17-year-old.

The fifth count was sent for review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled on a similar case in which a man was accused of exposing a 17-year-old to sexual contact. In late April, the court upheld the Kentucky Revised Statutes that was challenged in the case against Mark Stinson who was accused of exposing a 17-year-old to sexual contact.

The case revolved around several factors, including the fact that the age of sexual consent in Kentucky is 16 years old, putting the victim in the Stinson case over the age limit for the section of the statute defined as “lack of consent.”

The Supreme Court disagreed with that argument, adding that a 2008 addition to the statute specifies first-degree sexual abuse applies when a minor is under 18 years old and has been abused by “a person in a position of authority or position of special trust....subjects a minor who is less than 18 years old, with whom he or she comes into contact as a result of that position, to sexual contact....”

Steele said that Phelps’ case falls under that same category.

“As a school administrator, you are in position of authority,” Steele said.

The Supreme Court judges who reviewed the Stinson case stated in their opinion that the statute defines “a position of special trust” as “a position occupied by a person in a position of authority who by reason of that position is able to exercise undue influence over the minor.”

Steele explained that he filed the abeyance in Phelps’ case because he was familiar with Stinson’s case which had also sent before the Supreme Court. He added that another case, once again similar to Phelps’ and Stinson’s cases, was also pending until the state’s Supreme Court rendered an opinion on record on the Stinson case.

“The other case was Arnold Sprague, but once the Stinson case opinion was rendered, there was no use waiting on the Sprague case review,” he added.

Therefore, on May 14, Steele filed a motion in Laurel Circuit Court to “redocket” Court 5 of Phelps’ original indictment, which was granted by Laurel Circuit Court Judge Thomas Jensen.

Phelps is set for a pretrial conference on Oct. 3, and a jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 8.

Phelps remains free on bond until the court dates.