Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 7, 2014

Right ruling

Court: Prosecutors immune from lawsuits by defendants

The Independent

ASHLAND — The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has rightly dismissed a lawsuit filed by three acquitted defendants against two Madison County prosecutors. We shudder to think of what could happen to criminal justice in Kentucky if those found not guilty of their crimes could sue prosecutors.

Former Richmond police officers Garry Murphy and Brian Hensley, and another defendant,  James J. Rogers, were found not guilty by the jury in 2010. That should have been the end of it, with the three defendants being elated that justice had been served.

But instead of quietly closing this rather ugly chapter in their lives, the three defendants sued  Madison County Commonwealth’s Attorney David Smith and his wife, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Smith, for the damages they did to their reputations, their careers and their family lives by aggressively prosecuting them for crimes a jury decided they did not commit.

The investigation that led to the criminal charges stemmed from a sexual encounter they had with a woman, April McQueen, on Oct. 29. 2009, the Richmond Register reported. After their acquittal, Murphy, Hensley and Rogers did not stop at just suing the two prosecutors. They also sued then-Madison County Sheriff Nelson O’Donnell, two deputies, two of McQueen’s neighbors and her landlord. Clearly, they were seeking revenge from anyone responsible for the charges being brought to trial.

The federal appeals court in Cincinnati did the only thing it could do. It rightly ruled prosecutors are immune from a civil suit brought after a failed criminal prosecution.

Before advancing to trial, police officers had to investigate the allegations made by McQueen and determine if further action was needed. After being arrested, the charges against the three men had to be brought before a grand jury, which determined there was enough evidence to merit a trial.

Criminal cases do not usually go to trial on flimsy evidence. In this case, the prosecutors must have thought they had enough evidence to convict the three. The jury disagreed. So be it.