February 6, 2013

Judge grants dismissal against Phelps

Ky. Supreme Court still reviewing final charge

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Surrounded by family members, Charles Douglas Phelps walked out of the Laurel Circuit courtroom Monday morning with a relieved look on his face.

Phelps appeared before Laurel Circuit Judge Tom Jensen for a motion to dismiss four counts of a five-count indictment against him from two incidents that reportedly occurred in Nov. 2011.

Jensen granted the motion filed by Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele pertaining to the charges involving a 14-year-old girl. Phelps was accused of exposing the minor to sexual contact on Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 and offering her alcohol on both occasions.

The jury trial for Phelps was scheduled to begin Monday morning but during pre-trial interviews with the witness last week, Steele said the girl changed her story. He also received a copy of a taped phone conversation between the witness and another person, in which the girl said she had lied about the incident.

That, coupled with a lack of DNA evidence on a T-shirt worn by the girl when the incident allegedly occurred, prompted Steele to file the motion last Thursday to dismiss all charges concerning the 14-year-old.

Gary Crabtree, Phelps’ attorney, declined commenting on Monday’s hearing since another charge of the indictment against his client is being reviewed by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

In that case, the question of legality in the charge of sexual abuse of a 17-year-old girl is being reviewed. According to the Kentucky Revised Statutes, sexual abuse in the first degree occurs when a person under age 18 is subjected to sexual contact. However, the age of consensual sex in Kentucky is 16, disqualifying the 17-year-old victim from that particular area of the statute.

The statute for first-degree sex abuse is inclusive of a victim under age 18 if the offender has used a position of authority in order to have sexual contact. Phelps served as the director of pupil personnel with the Laurel County School System at the time. However, the 17 year old had not been attending any Laurel County school for almost two years prior to the incident on Nov. 5, 2011.

School officials stated Phelps was suspended with pay in November when the investigation began. However, once the indictment was returned against Phelps in January 2012, he was placed on suspension without pay.

School officials stated Phelps was no longer an employee of the school system.

Steele was very quiet about the case on Monday, but did state he had no other choice but to dismiss the charges without a witness and without any evidence linking Phelps to the alleged charges.

“I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent on this case, but with the witness changing her story and no DNA evidence, I had to ask for a dismissal,” Steele said. “I haven’t been able to sleep well since Monday when I got a copy of the taped phone conversation. But it’s all I could do.”

School Board Attorney Larry Bryson refused to speak with reporters regarding the Phelps’ case.

Attempts to contact Laurel County School Superintendent Doug Bennett via phone and email for comment were unreturned as of presstime Tuesday.