They fight for the same side, so is there anything wrong with a prosecutor having a sexual or romantic relationship with the lead detective on a case she is prosecuting?
That question has arisen recently in two different murder cases on the opposite ends of Kentucky, embarrassing both parties and raising questions about its impact on justice.
In Boone County in May, it was interjected in sensational fashion in a case in which a judge vacated a life sentence in a notorious murder. The case prompted local officials to call for the resignation of elected Commonwealth’s Attorney Linda Talley Smith.
In an unrelated case in Christian County, attorneys for a former soldier charged in the murder of a fellow GI will ask a judge to disqualify Commonwealth’s Attorney Lynn Pryor because of her relationship with an investigator.
In court papers, lawyers for Jarred Tabor Long in the Christian County case say defendants have a right to trial by a “disinterested prosecutor whose vision is not clouded” and “an intimate relationship between a prosecuting attorney and a lead investigative detective would be considered anything but disinterested.”
In an email to the Courier-Journal, Pryor called Long’s motion “a futile, last-minute attempt to derail this trial and avoid the inevitable” — his conviction in the murder of Vincent Goslyn.
“There has been no legitimate challenge calling into question the integrity of this investigation, any of the detectives or officers involved, or the evidence against Long,” she said.
Talley Smith, the Boone prosecutor, said in an email that she “absolutely regrets” her relationship with Detective Bruce McVay, “mostly because of the pain that I have caused my own family and other persons.”
But she said the relationship didn’t become personal until after the trial of janitor David Wayne Dooley, who was convicted in the murder of Michelle Mockbee, a 42-year-old mother of two whose body was found in an industrial park where she worked.
And Talley Smith, who was and is married to a district court judge, said her “personal mistakes during an extremely difficult period of my life have not impacted the work I have done as commonwealth’s attorney or the rights of any persons prosecuted by my office.”
Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys prohibit sex with clients but do not directly address whether prosecutors may have relationships with police officers working on their case.
However, law professor Ronald Rotunda, an ethics scholar at Chapman University in Orange, California, noted that the reason lawyer-client relationships are barred — they could cloud the lawyer’s judgment — applies to prosecutor police affairs as well. He said an emotional entanglement could keep a prosecutor from disclosing problems in a case that might embarrass the investigator.
At the least, prosecutors must disclose the relationship so the defense can use it in cross examining the officer, said Geoffrey Horn, a former military lawyer who teaches at Houston’s Southern Texas College of Law. He noted that a prosecutor in Kane County, Illinois, was suspended by her office for failing to disclose her affair with an Aurora officer who testified for her in a first-degree murder case.
In Jefferson County, Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said when a prosecutor is involved in a romantic relationship, the case is reassigned to avoid a conflict.
He cited non-binding guidelines from the National District Attorneys Association that say “the prosecutor should excuse himself or herself from any investigation, prosecution or other matter where the prosecutor’s personal interests would cause a fair-minded, objective observer to conclude their neutrality, judgment or ability to administer the law in an objective matter may be compromised.”
Dooley gets new trial
In the Northern Kentucky case, Talley Smith’s relationship with McVay was exposed when a law clerk in her office copied documents that included emails between her and the detective in which she called herself “Chiquita Queen.”
The records included a text in which Talley Smith said McVay “allowed me to go through a murder trial without telling me the truth” about a surveillance video that showed a possible alternative suspect at the crime scene.
The documents went to the Kentucky attorney general’s office, which took over the case.
In May, Boone County Circuit Court Judge J.R. Schrand ordered a new trial for Dooley, ruling the defense was entitled to know before trial about the individual on the video. His 18-page order doesn’t mention Talley Smith’s involvement with McVay, nor does it address her knowledge about the video.
In one of the emails, McVay wrote that he didn’t tell Tally Smith about the man in the video because she appeared “stressed.”
In a long letter to McVay, Talley Smith wrote that “even if I was aware that you had lied here or there on cases, I wouldn’t have wavered in that loyalty to you and ‘having your back.’ ” In her email to the Courier-Journal, she said she drafted the letter 10 months after the trial but never sent it because “I realized that I had completely misunderstood that situation.”
She has resisted calls from the Boone County attorney and judge-executive to resign.
Christian County murder
Long’s attorneys, including Mark Bryant, himself a former commonwealth’s attorney, say Pryor, the commonwealth’s attorney, should be disqualified because she is likely to be called as a material witness in a trial set for Aug. 7.
Long, 29, is charged with the murder of Goslyn, who was 28 and a soldier at Fort Campbell.
Long allegedly was having an affair with Goslyn’s wife, Jessie Lucille Goslyn. She pleaded guilty in May to complicity to murder for luring her husband to an isolated location in Christian County, where he was shot. She has agreed to testify against Long and won’t be sentenced until after his case is resolved.
The motion doesn’t specify what conflicts Pryor may have had because of the affair.
In her email, Pryor said, “As is common practice in any criminal prosecution, I have certainly discussed the case with the detectives involved in the investigation, and there has been nothing improper about any of those discussions.”
She said there is no basis for calling her as a witness.
“I believe that this is an unfair attack on myself and the detective,” Pryor said. “But it is most unfair to the family of Vincent Goslyn who has been forced to await justice for the brutal murder of their son for over five years now.”