Prosecutors can't use pornographic photos in former Woodford coroner's trial

Ward charged with sodomy of then-teen

gkocher1@herald-leader.comNovember 1, 2011 

VERSAILLES — Pornographic photos and sexually explicit messages from Internet chats cannot be introduced by the prosecution at the upcoming trial of former Woodford County coroner Steve Ward, a judge ruled Monday.

However, the victim whom Ward is accused of sexually abusing will be able to refer in testimony to additional acts of sodomy even though they may not be specifically cited in the 2010 indictment against Ward, Special Judge Bill Clouse ruled.

Ward has pleaded not guilty to six counts of third-degree sodomy in a case involving an adult male who was 14 when the incidents were alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2000. The trial is scheduled to start Dec. 12 in Versailles.

Ward, 57, who was coroner for 20 years, lost re-election last year to Ronald Eugene Owens.

The photos and computer chats between Ward and other men were stored on a "thumb drive," a device that stores data, that was seized by police during a search of Ward's house and offices. Special Prosecutor Andy Sims said he wanted to introduce the photos and the computer chats because they were "inextricably intertwined" with other evidence essential to the prosecution's case.

For example, the victim was shown some of the photos before the alleged acts of sodomy occurred, Sims said. However, the prosecution does not intend to introduce "any specific images" at trial, Sims said, but his motion said the prosecution would offer the evidence to prove Ward's "motive, opportunity, intent, preparation" and plan.

Sims said the texts of the Internet chats are relevant because it demonstrates that Ward, who is married and the father of one son, is "a bisexual who has an attraction to men."

But Ward's attorney, Patrick Nash, said none of the photos depict minors. Furthermore, most of the images depict adult women or adult heterosexual acts, but no acts between men, Nash said in his motion to exclude the evidence.

Likewise, the sexually suggestive chats appear to be between two consenting adults, and there was nothing in the chats concerning child sex abuse, Nash said in his motion to exclude. Nash argued that the photos and chats had "no connection to the case" and were prejudicial and inflammatory to the defense's case.

Clouse agreed and ruled that the photos and chats should be prohibited at trial.

However, Clouse ruled that the prosecution will be allowed to introduce evidence that Ward allegedly engaged in acts of sexual abuse and sodomy other than those specified in the indictment because they show a "common pattern or scheme." Sims said there are 20 to 30 such acts.

Clouse also ruled that the prosecution should provide the defense with a copy of treatment records from Lexington clinical psychologist Dr. Steven Stwertka, who treated the alleged victim. The records indicate that the victim spoke of his alleged abuse to Stwertka.

Nash argued that he needs to see those records to prepare a defense, and to allow a defense expert to examine the documents to assist in preparation for trial.

Clouse cautioned Nash that the documents should remain confidential and should be seen only by the defense team and the expert chosen to examine them.

Nash also said Monday that he has engaged in preliminary "settlement discussions" with the prosecution, "but we're not there yet."

If the case does go to trial, it is expected to last about five days in Woodford Circuit Court.

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