A special judge will hear information about an alleged juror conflict in connection with the trial of two Henderson residents found guilty earlier this year of drug trafficking.
Daviess County Circuit Judge Jay Wethington has been appointed as the special judge in the case involving Chad Rauch, 37, 800 block of Mill Street, and Ali Langley, 29, 2800 block of Sunset Lane. Defense attorneys for the two, Jason Pfiel and Paul Sysol, say their clients' right to a fair trial was compromised by the presence of a part-time reserve Henderson County sheriff's deputy who participated as a juror but apparently did not disclose his association with law enforcement.
The Henderson County Sheriff's Office was the investigating agency in the case which led to the charges and subsequent trial of Rauch and Langley.
The deputy in question was identified in past court proceedings as Dewayne Reneer.
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Reneer has also recently served as the secretary/treasurer for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 9 in Henderson.
Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Markwell told The Gleaner this week that the hearing with the special judge will be held in Daviess County Circuit Court at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 11.
"We offered to go to Daviess County because Jason Pfiel is now with the Public Defender's Office in Princeton, Kentucky, and he lives in Owensboro," Markwell said.
"The court date is basically a meeting to bring Judge Wethington up to date on the case. Rauch and Langley were found guilty but they were not sentenced because of the alleged problems with the jury," Markwell said.
A jury recommended that Rauch is sentenced to 20 years and Langley to 12 years.
In a past article based on a video The Gleaner obtained from a proceeding in Henderson Circuit Court, Pfiel said he only wanted a fair trial for his client. It was during this hearing in March that Circuit Judge Karen Wilson recused herself from the case.
"My only concern from the beginning is making sure that Mr. Rauch has a fair shake," Pfiel said. "I'm basing my motions on an anonymous phone call, but the bigger concern, which is verifiable from watching (the trial video is) the question (prosecutor Markwell asked) is whether anyone on the panel knew any of his witnesses, all of whom were from the sheriff's office. A number of people responded to that question, but Deputy Reneer did not."
Markwell responded to Pfiel's allegation saying, "That isn't true. That's not the question that I asked."
In a later interview with The Gleaner, Markwell said the questions he posed to the jury pool weren't simply if they knew any of the prosecution's witnesses, but rather if they knew the witnesses and if that would keep them from rendering an impartial verdict.
"I phrase it like that because this is Henderson. Everybody knows everybody," he said. "None of the attorneys asked if (Reneer) or any of the jurors were police officers."
A video containing the questioning of the jury pool shows that multiple potential jurors spoke and identified personal connections or links to sheriff's department witnesses that were introduced by Markwell. Each time, on the trial video, Marwell asked if their knowledge or connection would affect their ability to render a verdict.
Video footage shows that Reneer did not speak up.
Markwell said he knows Reneer's face but didn't know his profession.
"If I'd known he was a deputy sheriff, I would've disclosed that," he said.
However, Markwell said, if he'd known Reneer was a deputy that wouldn't "necessarily" cause him to excuse him from the jury pool.
"I ask questions to find out if someone can be fair or impartial, but ordinarily I don't inquire if someone's an officer or if they trust police officers ...The defense counsel should ask that question. (Pfiel) usually, asks," Markwell said.
Attempts to reach Reneer for comment were not successful.
Henderson County Sheriff Ed Brady said Reneer is still a reserve deputy but is not working with the agency until court issues are resolved.
"We're waiting to see how these accusations play out," Brady said.