Set on the Laurel Circuit Court docket for Friday, a former school administrator was hoping for an early release from a two-year sentence for tampering with a witness in a sex abuse case and possession of child pornography.
But a motion by Laurel Circuit Judge Tom Jensen on March 11 stated that Jensen was “unavailable or disqualified” from hearing the case. On March 18, an order appointing a Special Judge, the Hon. Jeffrey Burdette from Rockcastle County, to hear the case was filed in the Laurel Circuit Clerk’s office.
No date has yet been set for the hearing.
Phelps’ attorneys, Gary Crabtree and Conrad Cessna of London, tried to get the former school administrator released on probation after he plead guilty to one count of tampering with a witness and one count of possession of material depicting a minor in a sexual performance on Nov. 15. Phelps had been free on bond but after the sentencing, was immediately taken into custody and lodged in the Laurel County Detention Center where he has remained.
At the time of the sentencing, Crabtree outlined many of Phelps’ contributions to the community as well as his long employment in the school system. Phelps served as a teacher at Keavy Elementary until he was promoted to director of pupil personnel in 2002. After the allegations were filed against him, Phelps was placed on paid leave in Nov. 2011. He vacated his position in February 2012. He also served as a volunteer auctioneer with the annual United Way campaign and coordinated the Laurel County Fair each year.
But Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele argued that many of Phelps’ community service duties were related to his position in the school system and were not a factor in the case.
Jensen upheld the recommendation that Phelps serve his jail time for the offenses, but gave credit for the time Phelps had already served at the time of the sentencing. Under those terms, Phelps could be eligible for probation after serving 6 1/2 months. Conrad Cessna said on Friday this is the first time since his incarceration that Phelps was eligible for shock probation.
The former director of pupil personnel for the Laurel County School System was indicted in early 2012 for sexual abuse and unlawful transaction with a minor on two dates in November 2011. These allegations involved two teenage girls and accused Phelps of providing alcohol to one of the teens on one occasion.
But when the key witness against Phelps recanted the story given to investigators, the charges involving that witness — who was 14 years old when the incidents occurred — were dismissed. The remaining count involving sexual abuse of a then-17-year-old was set for trial in October 2013. The failure of the witness to appear postponed the case but Phelps was ordered to have no contact with the either victim and released on bond. The following day, Judge Jensen ordered Phelps to be arrested and jailed for violating terms on his bond release. Days later, Phelps was named in another indictment for bribing a witness and tampering with a witness. It was believed Phelps was encouraging the witness not to show up in court and testify against him.
Yet another indictment — an “indictment by information” — against Phelps came on Nov. 1, charging him with possession of child pornography. This came after Phelps’ arrest on Oct. 9 when his cell phone was seized by law enforcement officials. Commonwealth’s Attorney Jackie Steele said Phelps’ phone contained pictures of underage girls engaging in sexual performances.
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