February 1, 2013

Phelps’ witness changes story

State’s attorney files for dismissal of case

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — There’s no DNA evidence and now there’s no lead witness.

The trial for a former school administrator charged with sex-related crimes set for today (Monday) may be postponed following a motion to dismiss by the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

The motion, filed in the Laurel Circuit Clerk’s office on Thursday, asks for the dismissal of four of the five counts of the indictment against Charles Douglas Phelps, former director of pupil personnel with the Laurel County School System.  Phelps was indicted in January of last year for allegedly exposing a 14-year-old to sexual contact on Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 in 2011. He also allegedly supplied alcohol to the teenager on both occasions. Those charges comprise the first four counts of the indictment.

But the 14-year-old has changed her story, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele, resulting in his motion for dismissal of the two counts of sexual abuse and two counts of unlawful transaction with a minor.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on this case but there is nothing else I can do,” Steele said. “The witness changed her story and there is no DNA evidence.”

The motion Steele filed on Thursday cited a lack of DNA evidence as well as a transcript of a conversation the witness had with a friend in April of last year. In that conversation, the witness said she had lied about the sexual contact with Phelps.

In his motion to dismiss, Steele wrote: “(The witness) was brought to my office for trial preparation on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 and again Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 at which time she reviewed her previous statements and the phone conversation which had just been provided. At that time, (the witness) identified numerous statements in her prior interviews that were incorrect.”

In another section of the motion, Steele continued: “With the different versions of events... the Commonwealth finds itself with a witness who has a lack of credibility regarding the events that took they pertain to her.

“As such the Commonwealth cannot in good faith ask a jury to convict based upon her statements. It is important to note that there is no tangible evidence, such as DNA, or any other witness that would testify about the events at the time of the alleged events.”

In an interview on Friday, Steele explained: “We did send a shirt off for DNA testing, but there was no DNA on the shirt.”

While Steele said he had spent many hours collecting evidence, preparing documents and interviewing witnesses and alleged victims, he said the 14-year-old could not be held accountable for any legal charges.

“If (the witness) were an adult, you can be sure I would be referring it to a grand jury for falsely reporting an incident,” he said.

Charges against Phelps in which he is accused of exposing a 17-year-old to sexual contact on Nov. 5, 2011 (Count 5) have come under fire as well.

On January 18, Phelps’ attorney, Gary Crabtree, filed a motion to dismiss Count 5, which is now before the Kentucky Supreme Court for review.

The complications with Count 5, which is sexual abuse of a minor under 18 years old, has two phases, Steele said.

“The first issue is that the victim was 17 years old when the sexual contact took place,” Steele said. “The age of consent in Kentucky is 16, so the Supreme Court is looking at that. The second part is whether the sexual contact has a direct relation to (Phelps’) position of authority.”

Although Phelps was the director of pupil personnel at the time, the 17-year-old had not been enrolled in the county school system for nearly two years. This factor could nullify the charge against Phelps.

Steele is now asking the court to hold off for a final decision on this charge from the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Laurel Circuit Judge Tom Jenson will rule for or against Steele’s motion to dismiss on Monday.

Calls to Phelps’ attorney, Crabtree, and Laurel County School System Attorney Larry Bryson for comments were not returned by press time on Friday afternoon.