(12/06/2002)
By Bob Weaver

Controversial State Police chemist Fred Zain has died from cancer. Zain, known for his bogus evidence which put numerous innocent people in jail, destroyed lives and cost the taxpayers several million dollars.

The state's attorney Steve McGowan vowed to "bury this thing so deep that no one could find out." The cover-up by the State Police may well be the worst part of the case, which spanned nearly a decade.

In one settlement, the state's insurance carrier paid a secret $2.5 million to William Odel Harris, Jr., when he sued over wrongful imprisonment.

At least six men, a matter of record, were imprisoned over Zain's lies, and many other cases were obviously tainted by the State Police lab. Those men served 40 years for crimes they did not commit.

Zain was tried more than once, but never convicted.

Currently, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has brought a suit against Steptoe and Johnson, alleging they conspired with the State Police to conceal Zain's misconduct.

Since the Zain case, numerous other problems have surfaced with the State Police lab producing improper results, with lab personnel and officers being fired, suspended and jailed and the agency has continued to be under federal investigation.

Many criminal justice experts believe the State Police lab should be abolished with the creation of an indepedent lab, possibly located at a state university. The ignoring of quality control problems and a constitutional issue of conflict of interest, where the State Police have a vested need to find subjects guilty, continues to raise serious problems.

The agency defends the lab, as it does in-house review of the professional misconduct of its officers, both have continued to spiral the agency into loss of confidence. The legislature has declined to take on State Police problems.

The Charleston Gazette says those responsible for the lab cover-up have never been charged and "Justice still waits."

It has never been clear what happened to alleged drug evidence used to prosecute Calhoun resident Kelley Mace, with court testimony indicating the illegal drug was sent to the State Police lab for validation.

Mace's court appointed attorney Drew Patton asked "Where did it go? Where is it now?" There has never been a response.

The case against Mace was dropped after about one year when no evidence was produced. Mace asked for an criminal investigation of Trooper Doug Starcher, who testified to the evidence earlier this year, but no charges have ever been brought against the officer.

The outcome of an internal investigation of Starcher was not available from the State Police with a Freedom of Information request.

FORMER STATE TROOPER RELEASED

A former State Policeman, 32-year-old Gary Messenger, was freed from Mt. Olive Correctional Facility yesterday, after serving two years for the unlawful wounding of a Welch man in 1999.

Messenger and two other officers, all reportedly in a drunken state, entered the apartment of Raymond Neal Rose, beating him severely. Rose had complained about noise the officers were making outside a nearby club where they were partying.

Some of the same officers later entered the local 911 center, demanding the tape on which the incident was recorded. The dispatcher had secured the tape in a safe. The damaging content of the tape was published in the Charleston Gazette and used to convict Messenger.

Rose was reportedly awarded $1 million in a civil suit against the State Police.

FORMER BRAXTON TROOPER IS SUING STATE POLICE

Former Braxton County trooper M. A. Staley has brought a suit against the West Virginia State Police indicating wrongful discharge linked to discrimination.

The Charleston Gazette reports Staley didn't make probation, although his detachment commander Sgt. John Bonazzo found little wrong with his performance. Staley claims he was discharged because of his service to the Marine Corp Reserves, where he says he was injured.

State Police Superintendent Howard Hill contends the reasons for Staley's dismissal had nothing to do with his military service, according to the Charleston newspaper.

Numerous allegations were made against Staley by several Braxton residents whose names appeared on an eleven-person "target list" issued by his supervisor Sgt. John Bonazzo. Bonazzo was summoned to Charleston and records indicate he may have received a five-day suspension himself over the incident.

Braxton citizens indicated Staley behaved inappropriately in several different incidents.

Staley is apparently attempting to return to his job as a state trooper.

A trooper's group has hired an attorney for Sgt. Bonazzo related to his "current problems." Bonazzo filed a suit earlier against his own organization, a pattern followed by many troopers in recent years, when he was overlooked for promotion to sergeant. He was then promoted.


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