|Suspect released after waiting eight months for hearing |
By David Hedges, Publisher
A man arrested twice on methamphetamine charges while he was already serving a sentence on home confinement for making meth has been returned to home confinement after his case stalled in court.
Roane Sheriff Todd Cole said delays like the more than seven months Richard Allen Bowen waited for a hearing are costing the county thousands of dollars in unnecessary jail fees. Cole faulted Prosecuting Attorney Mark Sergent for the delays.
"I hate to see the county's money being wasted," the sheriff said. "Right now we're zeroing out every line in our budget just to pay for gas."
In response to the criticism, Sergent said the jail bill is not his only concern.
"I know it costs the county money, but there are times when you have to have someone in jail," Sergent said.
Cole said three recent cases alone cost the county thousands of dollars in jail fees. The county pays $48.50 per day for each prisoner, until they are sentenced to a state facility.
Bowen, 47, who now lives in Charleston, was arrested when police raided a home at Clio in southern Roane County in 2005.
The following year he pled guilty to operating a clandestine drug lab and was sentenced to 2-to-10 years in prison and fined $5,000.
Six months later, he was released to serve the remainder of his sentence on home confinement.
In his request for release, Bowen said he had made improvements in his life that would serve as "indicators that he will not again commit a crime."
Just less than a year after he was released on home confinement, Bowen was stopped for speeding in Kanawha County. A deputy smelled meth in the vehicle and allegedly found several items in the car used to make meth.
The following month, May 2007, Sergent filed a motion to revoke Bowen's home confinement.
Bowen denied any wrongdoing and asked for a hearing. He was released from jail again, this time on $20,000 bond.
In July 2007, the motion to revoke home confinement was dismissed by Roane Circuit Judge David Nibert because of problems with the evidence.
Cole said Sergent had failed to disclose to the defense that there were photographs taken. But Sergent said it was the officer in Kanawha County who failed to inform him about the photos.
The following month, Bowen was arrested again when a Kanawha home confinement officer visited his home in Charleston and allegedly discovered a drug lab.
Bowen was again lodged in the regional jail after his last arrest. But after more than seven months passed, his attorney, John Oshoway, filed a writ of habeas corpus protesting that his client was being held in jail without a hearing.
The petition said Bowen had been in jail on a hold from Roane County since Sept. 7 of last year.
In a hearing Friday, Nibert released Bowen again on home confinement.
Bowen is set to return to court May 19 for a status conference that could determine if he has served the sentence in full.
In that case alone, Cole said Bowen's time waiting in jail cost the county over $12,000.
Had Bowen been a state prisoner, serving the original sentence of 2-to-10 years if his home confinement had been revoked, the county would not have owed anything.
Sergent said Roane County should not have borne that cost.
"He (Bowen) was in jail on a Kanawha County charge as well," Sergent said. "If we got stuck with the bill, I think they should have been responsible because he didn't make bond in Kanawha County."
Cole cited two other cases he said could have been resolved sooner, with less expense to the county.
Margaret Darling, 46, of Charleston was involved in a single-vehicle accident in Newton in July. After an investigation, she was charged with 22 counts of fraudulent use of a credit card and one count of receiving stolen property after police determined credit cards in her possession at the time of the accident had been stolen in Ohio.
She remained in the regional jail until February, when she pled to a single misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to time served.
Cole said Darling had agreed months earlier to return to Ohio to face more serious charges relating to the credit cards. He said he told Sergent his department was willing to drop the charges here to allow that to happen.
Sergent said he disagreed with that approach.
"She committed a crime here and she should be punished here," he said. "If you just send her back to Ohio, you've not done anything."
In the other case, Laura Savannah Walden, 24, of Charleston was placed on home confinement last year after pleading guilty to conspiring to operate a drug lab.
She was serving her sentence in Kanawha County, where she was arrested Feb. 28 for violating home confinement. She was released April 7 because no home confinement violation petition had been filed.
Her attorney, Dennis Curry, said she was arrested again about a week ago in Kanawha County for another alleged violation. Sergent said he still planned to pursue home confinement violation charges in that case.
By Cole's estimate, the three cases cost the county over $20,000 in jail fees.
"We've got to get these prisoners off the county payroll," he said. "It's eating us up."
Judge Nibert apparently agrees. On Feb. 29 he issued a two-page order instructing Sergent to enter orders within 72 hours in all criminal cases in which he appears.
The deadline is sooner in cases that cost the county money. Orders must be submitted by the end of the business day in any case that transfer an inmate to a state facility, releases an inmate from a regional jail or reduces bond of an inmate being held while awaiting trial.
Nibert's directive said the entry of orders was "a matter of critical fiscal concern to the taxpayers of Roane County, West Virginia…"
Sergent has asked the county commission for additional staff to help stay current with court orders.
"We're trying to catch up," Sergent said. "We've been swamped with juveniles and abuse and neglect cases. There's just been an avalanche of court work."
The commission did approve funding for a third secretary for the prosecutor's office, but not until the new budget year begins July 1.