While their convictions in a federal vote-buying case were overturned on appeal, a former Clay County commissioner and two business owners have said they will plead guilty instead of going through another trial. Just what impact, if any, their guilty pleas will have on the cases pending against five other officials whose convictions also were overturned remains to be seen.
Attorneys for one-time Clay County Magistrate Stanley Bowling and former garbage-hauling business owners Bart and Debra Morris have filed motions saying the three will plead guilty to a charge they took part in a conspiracy to control local politics by means of vote fraud. The three were among the eight Clay County residents convicted in 2010.
Earlier this year, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned their convictions after concluding the trial judge allowed prosecutors to present evidence that was inadmissible.
The other five include former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former school Superintendent Douglas Adams; former county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson; Charles Wayne Jones, who was an election commissioner; and William Stivers, who had been an election officer. Together, they were among the most influential public officials in Clay County.
Hoping to send a message to other politicians about the seriousness of election fraud, U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves handed down lengthy sentences in the case, including 24 years for Maricle. Adams was sentenced to 20 years. They have since been released from federal prison and are scheduled for trial later this year.
The three guilty pleas could cause the five to also change their pleas, but that is their decision. If they do not, a new trial should go on as planned. This case is too important to the future of fair and free local elections in Clay County and other Kentucky counties to not be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
But regardless of the eventual outcome of this case, we hope it has convinced both political candidates and voters in Clay County the days of vote buying have come to an end. If so, then true democracy has come to another rural Kentucky county.