(02/27/2009)
By Bob Weaver

The West Virginia Supreme Court has accepted a petition to hear a request for a second re-trail of the 2003 Ronnie Rush murder case.

Rush's attorney Rocky Holmes appeared before the court with the request in what is a first step for yet another re-trial.

Rush has been found guilty by juries in the brutal murders of two county residents.

The attorneys are asking the court to "overturn Mr. Rush's murder conviction due to the state's key witness Cpl. Doug Starcher having inappropriate contact with empaneled jurors."

The defense attorneys are claiming that "illegal contact with four male jurors" by the Calhoun state policeman tainted the Jackson County re-trial.

Judge Thomas Evans III ruled that Starcher's contact caused no harm to Rush's case.

The brief says that "Cpl. Starcher had carried on lengthy conversations with members of the jury, when he was a critical witness for the State, seated by the Calhoun prosecutor throughout a first degree murder trial."

The filing also contends that a juror testified that (Cpl. Starcher's conversation) "had an emotional impact upon the jury."

Rush first went to trial in December, 2004 for the murders of Ward Groves and Mary Hicks in 2003.

That jury returned a verdict of guilty on two counts of voluntary manslaughter, and Rush was sentenced to 40 years in the penitentiary, with the sentences to run consecutive to each other.

An appeal made to the high court by Rush's attorneys Teresa Monk and Rocky Holmes, claimed the WV State Police in Grantsville tainted the case with a series of serious blunders.

The Supreme Court agreed, and called for a new trial.

A new trial was held in Jackson County in November, 2007.

It was during the re-trial that Rush's attorneys said Cpl. Starcher carried on lunchtime conversations with at least four of the jurors.

The attorney's moved for a mistrial, denied by Judge Evans.

Monk and Holmes said they abided by the judge's admonishment "that no one was permitted to speak or have contact with any member of the jury," saying they dropped their heads during a lunch break in the presence of jurors, in an eatery across the street from the Jackson courthouse.

After discovering Cpl. Starcher conversing with the jurors, they claim if they exhibited the same behavior with the jurors, the state would file charges against them.

"Juror Wallen stated he talked with the Cpl. [Starcher] for about 12-15 minutes. Juror Hoschar testified that they had talked for about 15-20 minutes...," according to the appeal.

One conversation included a discussion of an acquaintance who was a member of the WV State Police.

All the jurors indicated they spoke about football and hunting.

Judge Evans dismissed two of the jurors, stating "[It] was a stupid thing for the trooper to do...but it is incumbent upon the defense to show prejudice to Ronnie Rush, and I do not believe that burden has been met..."

The defense attorneys called juror Lakrisa Rhodes to testify in an effort to set aside the verdict. She said "The one [juror] that got dismissed was angry, and the other one that was questioned was angry, yes. His face was red, and you could tell he was - he had an expression of anger."

That angry man was later determined to be the jury foremen, one of the four who conversed with Cpl. Starcher.

Rush's attorneys said "The stakes are higher and this officer knew better, had to have known better..."

Judge Evans maintained there was no evidence of prejudice against Rush.

Defense attorney Teresa Monk has said there are problems with missing evidence money linked to the case, indicating the money had been in the custody of officers of the Grantsville Detachment of the State Police.


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