Ex-Woodford coroner must have psychological evaluation before release

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJuly 31, 2012 

VERSAILLES — Former Woodford County Coroner Steve Ward must undergo a psychological evaluation before he can be released from jail on shock probation or work release, a judge said Tuesday.

Ward will continue serving a 360-day sentence for misdemeanor sexual misconduct until Special Judge William Clouse receives a recommendation from the psychiatrist or psychologist who performs the evaluation.

"This court needs to take every possible step to see that the community is protected," Clouse said. In the meantime, Clouse will make no decision on shock probation or work release until he has a recommendation.

Defense attorney Patrick Nash said during a hearing Tuesday morning that the judge has received letters that supported and opposed shock probation and work release.

Ward has owned Blackburn and Ward Funeral Home in Versailles since 1989.

There was an Internet posting from an employee of a "rival funeral home" encouraging others to write letters opposing work release or shock probation for Ward, Nash said.

"Almost half the (opposing) letters are family members of that employee," Nash said. "So, again, I can't say for certain that this is completely motivated by commercial concerns, but I think we ought to note the connection there with the business rivalry."

The attorney did not identify the funeral home, and the letters were sealed after the hearing ended, a court clerk said.

Also, "a good number of these letters come from the family of the person who ran against my client in the latest coroner election," Nash said in open court. Ronald Eugene Owens, who is now Woodford County coroner, defeated Ward in the 2010 election.

Likewise, family and friends also wrote in support of Ward, but Nash said there are "maybe 100" letters from people who aren't connected to Ward but who wrote to express support for him.

Special prosecutor Andy Sims took no position on the motion for shock probation or work release, leaving the decision to the judge's discretion.

Ward, 58, pleaded guilty on May 29 to engaging in "deviant sexual intercourse" without the consent of a 14-year-old boy. Five other counts of third-degree sodomy were dismissed. The encounters with the boy, who is now an adult, happened from 1998 to 2000, according to an indictment.

Ward began serving his sentence in the Woodford County jail on June 1.

Clouse said Ward would have to pay for the psychological evaluation because the state would not foot the bill. Clouse ordered a cap on the evaluation's cost so it will not exceed $5,000.

Nash said he and his client had no objection to an evaluation.

"We'll do whatever your honor feels appropriate," Nash said.

In the motion for shock probation and in his remarks in open court, Nash said Ward has no other criminal history and has been active in various community roles.

The motion for shock probation noted that Ward was active with the United Way, chairman of the Woodford County Salvation Army and a member of Versailles Rotary Club and the Kiwanis Club. He was instrumental in starting a "teddy bear fund" for sick children at the former Woodford Memorial Hospital, according to the motion for shock probation.

"Over and over, the letter writers express how caring Steve is for families who are grieving the loss of a loved one," the motion for shock probation said.

The motion also noted that Ward would "pay bills for residents in need" and "provided housing for those in need."

The motion argued that Ward neither poses a flight risk nor a danger to the community.

Ward employs staff at Blackburn and Ward, but the company has had to enlist the services of licensed embalmers and directors to continue to operate, Nash said.

"Granting shock probation will insure that this business can continue to provide service to and employment opportunities for Woodford County citizens," Nash's motion said.

As an alternative, Nash has also asked for work release so that Ward may leave the jail in the morning, work at the funeral home during the day, and then return to jail at night.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @hlpublicsafety

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