(05/22/2007)
The West Virginia Supreme Court has admonished a Clay County judge for not remaining impartial and neutral in a meth case.

They have granted defendant Gerald Mark Thompson Jr. a new trial.

The court said that Circuit Judge Richard A. Facemire "abandoned his role of impartiality and neutrality and that his role in both questioning witnesses and making comments to aid the prosecuting attorney in the presentation of the state's case seriously affected the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the judicial proceedings."

Justice Larry Starcher wrote "We also find that the judge's conduct in this case weighed in favor of the state's case to the point that the judge's partiality became a factor in the determination of the jury to such an extent that the appellant did not receive a fair trial."

State Police and Clay County sheriff's deputies were called to Thompson's residence in April 2004 because of gunfire.

During a search of Thompson's house, they discovered a small wooden barrel containing a small sealed Mason jar with a length of clear tubing extending out of the jar through a seal.

Thompson was then indicted by a Clay County grand jury and convicted of making meth.

The trial was before Facemire in September 2005. Thompson was sentenced to two to 10 years in prison.

Starcher noted that Facemire "conducted extensive questioning of many of the witnesses," altogether about 180 questions.

The decision said "The orderly conduct of criminal trials requires that the trial judge be extremely cautious not to intimate in any manner by word, tone, or demeanor, his opinion upon any fact in issue ... Regardless of the intentions of the judge with his questioning of witnesses and prompting in this case, the actions of the judge in this case compel reversal."

Thompson's lawyer, Clay attorney Jerome Novobilski, did not object to the judge's extensive questions and comments at trial and raised only two of those issues on appeal.

The court decided Facemire's actions influenced jurors.

"We do not believe that it is necessary to pry into the mind of the trial judge or to speculate as to his motives in asking questions or making comments during the trial," Starcher wrote.

"We need only to view the judge's conduct from the perspective of the members of the jury."


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