Breathitt school superintendent jailed for violating terms of bond

bestep@herald-leader.comMay 9, 2012 

Arch Turner

Breathitt County Schools Superintendent Arch Turner must stay in jail until his trial on federal vote-buying charges because he probably would try to influence witnesses if left free on bond, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier revoked Turner's bond after a hearing Tuesday, ordering Turner jailed immediately.

Wier had released Turner from custody after he was arrested in the vote-buying case in March.

One condition of Turner's pretrial release was that he not have contact with prosecution witnesses or with defendants in the case, except through his attorneys.

However, evidence at the hearing showed Turner went to the home of another man charged with him, former county Sheriff John L. Turner, and discussed the case, Wier said in an order filed Wednesday.

Among other things, Arch Turner discussed lining up stories among defendants and witnesses in his trial and a related case, Wier said.

That was after John L. Turner, who did not request the meeting, reminded Arch Turner they weren't supposed to discuss the case, according to the order.

John L. Turner reported the incident and later wore a recording device for authorities who were investigating.

At another meeting, Arch Turner talked about the case again and encouraged John L. Turner to buy a cellphone that couldn't be traced by police, according to testimony Wier cited in his order.

Arch Turner's conduct was "a blatant attempt to interfere with or affect the prosecution" of the alleged vote-buying conspiracies in Breathitt County, Wier said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor argued that Arch Turner should be jailed pending trial, scheduled for July 30.

Arch Turner's attorney, Brent Caldwell, told Wier that arrangements have been made for Turner to move to Lexington — away from witnesses in the case — and that Turner could be monitored closely if allowed to remain free.

Wier, however, said it was clear that Turner "has no respect for conditions of release and/or for the purity and propriety of the judicial system."

He said he couldn't trust that any release conditions would guard against Turner trying to tamper with witnesses, wherever he lived.

Turner is among 10 people in three related cases charged with conspiring to buy votes in the May 2010 primary in Breathitt County.

He is charged with conspiracy; providing money to buy votes; trying to get a witness to not give information to authorities, or to lie; and lying to an FBI agent.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Turner maintains his innocence, Caldwell said.

Eight people, including school board member George Daniel "Bear" Strong and Michael Salyers, a candidate for magistrate in 2010, have pleaded guilty or been convicted.

Court documents say several people conspired to buy votes for a slate of candidates.

People who sold their votes for up to $75 falsely said they were disabled and needed help in the voting booth, so that a member of the conspiracy could go in with them and make sure they voted as paid, court documents indicate.

There has been talk in the county that Turner has told school board members he is quitting.

However, Lynn Herald, the board's attorney, said she had not seen any formal notice about Turner's employment. The acting board chairwoman, Ina Southwood, refused to comment on whether Turner had told her he was quitting.

State Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday has asked Turner to resign, but he has not responded, said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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