A former Laurel County school official who pled guilty to possession of child pornography in 2013 was pardoned by former Gov. Matt Bevin.
Charles Douglas Phelps, 60, of London was one of hundreds pardoned by the outgoing Kentucky governor in his final days in office. The pardon for Phelps was cited by Bevin as "long in duration, long in accusations, and short on evidence." The pardon exonerates Phelps of all charges related to the plea agreement, clearing his record of any such charges and conditions imposed by the plea.
Jackie Steele, Commonwealth's Attorney for the 27th Circuit that includes Knox and Laurel counties, prosecuted the case and said Phelps' case was like the hundreds of other pardons granted by Bevin in his final days in office.
"I don't understand the Governor doing that," Steele said. "In this case, the Governor said it was short on evidence. But he (Phelps) admitted guilt and agreed to register as a sex offender. He admitted possessing material with a minor in a sexual performance and tampering with a witness. We had this case ready for trial, ready with the jurors when he entered a guilty plea. Now he gets a full pardon - he's no longer a felon, has no supervision, and is no longer a sex offender. His record is clear. He could go back to teaching and working with children without any record of this case. It's like all the other people Bevin pardoned before he left office - it's a travesty and I can't imagine what the victims and their families are feeling right now."
Phelps pleaded guilty on Nov. 21, 2013, to one count of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor and one count of tampering with a witness, according to court documents in the case. He was sentenced to serve two years on the first charge and one year on the tampering with a witness charge. The two sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, or one after the other, giving Phelps a total of three years in prison.
He was originally indicted in January 2012 for three counts of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of unlawful transaction with a minor. Phelps was the Director of Pupil Personnel for the Laurel County School District at that time, but was placed on administrative leave when allegations arose that he had had sexual contact with a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old female and reportedly had given both alcohol.
Following the indictment, Phelps turned himself in at the Laurel County Correctional Center, where he spent 30 minutes before posting $15,000 cash bond and was released. The conditions of his bond were that he was to have no contact with either victim or their family members, no cell phone or text messaging devices, no computer, no Internet, home incarceration monitored by Emcon and not to leave his residence other than for court appearances or required visits to the Office of Probation and Parole.
The case went through several delays, primarily when a key witness continuously failed to show up to testify against Phelps and when then Laurel Circuit Judge Tom Jensen recused himself from hearing the case. A special judge was appointed to preside over the case upon Jensen's recusal. Phelps remained free on bond.
But in October 2013, Phelps was indicted on new charges of tampering with a witness and bribing a witness. That indictment claimed that from August 1 through October 9, 2013, Phelps tampered with a witness by "inducing or attempting to induce" the victim "to absence herself and to avoid appearing and testifying at a trial against the defendant" ...."by instructing and/or aiding" her "not to appear at said trial, all with the intent to influence the outcome of the proceedings." Count 2 of that indictment claimed that Phelps bribed the witness by "knowing and unlawfully offering to pay and by paying" her "a sum of money to influence her testimony at a trial pending in Laurel Circuit Court wherein the Defendant is charged with sexual abuse first degree, all with the intent to influence the outcome of the proceedings."
Phelps appeared in court on Oct. 8 and was ordered to have no contact with the witness, but was jailed the following day after it was determined that he had violated the terms of his probation by having contact with the witness immediately after leaving the court the previous day. Jail records show that Phelps remained incarcerated from Oct. 9 to Oct. 31, 2013.
But on Oct. 31, 2013, Phelps was named in an "Indictment by Information," charging him with possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor. That incident took place on Oct. 8, 2013, according to court records.
That indictment sent Phelps back to jail on Nov. 15, with his plea of guilty to the possession of sexual matter depicting a minor in a sexual performance and tampering with a witness. With his plea on those charges, the sexual abuse, unlawful transaction with a minor, and bribing a witness charges were dismissed. However, Phelps was ordered to register as a sex offender for 20 years as part of that plea as well as to be on probation for five years.
Jail records show that Phelps remained in jail until his release on Dec. 1, 2014, although that did not come without his attorneys, Conrad Cessna and Gary Crabtree, filing for shock probation in March 2014. That came after Phelps was denied early release by the Office of Probation and Parole.
The motion for shock probation was also denied by Special Judge Jeffrey Burdette who presided over the case after Jensen was recused. Burdette stated in the document that the shock probation - which would have freed Phelps for the remainder of his sentence - that as Director of Pupil Personnel for the school system, Phelps "held a position of trust over many young people in the community" and had been indicted on "serious charges relevant to his alleged improper contact" with the two victims.
"Despite his bond conditions, he tampered with a witness and was also charged with possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor. Therefore, he could not be managed in the community on bond, which is regrettable considering the opportunity to actually be on bond on such serious charges to begin with," the judge wrote.
"Therefore, this defendant, despite having what is clearly a very reputable family offering support, and possessing a successful professional background, has earned service of his sentence by not only his criminal behavior and admitted guilt, but, by his behavior on bond, notwithstanding his agreeing to accept the sentence at the time of the plea," the denial continued. "Moreover the community must be assured that the position of trust means just that, and if breached, such as the case is here, it must be met with serious deliberation and decisiveness."
After serving the majority of his sentence, Phelps was granted credit for time served while on home incarceration - 14 days, which allowed his release on Nov. 1, 2014.
Calls requesting comment from Phelps and his attorneys, Cessna and Crabtree, were not returned.