|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
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
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
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
Braxton citizens indicated Staley behaved inappropriately in several
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.