The 2009 riot at Northpoint Training Center lasted about six hours.
That’s how long a Boyle Circuit Court jury deliberated Tuesday before finding former inmate Newell Stacy guilty of rioting but hanging on the more serious charge of first-degree arson. The jury’s failure to convict or acquit Stacy of arson led Judge Darren Peckler to declare a mistrial on that charge.
The split verdict left attorneys on both sides unable to declare victory and wondering what issues caused the jury to falter in reaching a unanimous decision.
“I can’t say it’s a complete disappointment — there was a conviction — but I’m curious as to what they got hung up on,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms.
After calling it a day at 8 p.m. Tuesday, jurors returned to the box this morning for the penalty phase during which they will recommend a prison sentence for Stacy on the rioting conviction.
Rioting is a Class D felony with a sentence range of 1-5 years, but Bottoms will argue that Stacy is a persistent felony offender based on his past record, which includes convictions for murder and robbery. If Bottoms establishes Stacy’s PFO status with the jury, the riot charge will be enhanced to a Class B felony, which carries a sentence range of 10-20 years.
On Monday, the prosecution presented a case that rested almost solely on the eyewitness testimony of Northpoint Sgt. Tim Peaveyhouse. Peaveyhouse told jurors that he clearly saw Stacy slam a concrete slab against door handles of the multi-purpose building and then use the slab to break out windows. Stacy then tossed a burning roll of toilet paper through a broken window and heaved a burning trash can onto the roof, Peaveyhouse testified.
The defense countered on Tuesday with testimony from four inmates — convicted felons who took the stand in orange jumpsuits and bound hand and foot in chains — and four prison officers who were present during the riot that destroyed six buildings and rendered five dorms uninhabitable.
Under questioning from defense attorney Elizabeth Kidd, the inmates all testified they were with Stacy after inmates were evacuated from their dorms by guards and ordered to a grassy area nearby. They remained with Stacy as the riot became full-fledged and inmates were told to move to the softball field if they didn’t want to be considered participants.
“I was with him at the ballfield the whole time until we were loaded on buses to be transported the next day,” inmate Chris Barley testified.
Three of the inmates were housed in Dorm 2 with Stacy and testified no fires were set in that building. They all told jurors they did not see Stacy participate in any of the riotous behavior exhibited by other inmates such as throwing canned goods at officers, busting out windows or setting things ablaze.
All four inmates testified that several guards were using hand-held video cameras to record the action and Barley said he is aware that video evidence is being used in the prosecution of other inmates charged in the riot who have not yet come to trial. The defense often reminded jurors that the prosecution did not present any video evidence showing Stacy rioting or setting fires.
Peaveyhouse previously testified that officers sometimes used cameras they knew to be inoperable in order to trick inmates into thinking their actions were being recorded.
Under cross examination from Bottoms, the four inmates acknowledged they were friends of Stacy and frequently hung out with him in the prison yard.
The four corrections officers called by the defense testified they were in position to see what happened at the multi-purpose building, but none of them identified Stacy as a rioter or fire starter in their reports or interviews with investigators. Officer Aaron Mankin ID’d another inmate as using a concrete object to damage the building. Officer Nick Godbey said he saw yet another inmate set a roll of toilet paper on fire and toss it into the building.
Under questioning from Bottoms, the guards all said there was a lot of chaotic activity involving multiple inmates around the building and they would not have necessarily witnessed the same thing as Peaveyhouse.
During his closing argument, Bottoms reminded jurors that Peaveyhouse testified he was 100-percent certain he saw Stacy riot and commit arson, and that the officer had no reason to single out Stacy.
“Tim Peaveyhouse was very clear in what he saw,” the prosecutor said. “What we have here is Tim Peaveyhouse on one side and four convicted felons on the other side. Who’s got the motive to tell the truth and who’s got the motive to lie?”
Lead public defender Susanne McCollough began her summation by taping a large picture of an eye to a board in front of the jury and casting dispersions on the reliability of a single eyewitness in such a chaotic scene.
“I’m not saying if you don’t have video and you don’t have DNA evidence that doesn’t mean you have to acquit, but there’s only one eyewitness among 40 or 50 guards out there. No one else identifies Newell Stacy at the multi-purpose building or chasing around yelling at officers. There’s no corroboration of what this eyewitness saw,” McCollough said.
“He only had a matter of seconds to observe these actions and there were a lot of distractions going on. I’m not saying officer Peaveyhouse got up here and lied, I’m saying he was mistaken.”
Jurors got the case at 2 p.m. At 3 p.m., they requested a video of Peaveyhouse’s Monday testimony.
At 6 p.m., they asked for video of the testimony that inmates and officers gave in the morning. They reached their split verdict at 8 p.m.
Afterward, both Bottoms and McCollough surmised that jurors must have believed Peaveyhouse’s account because they found Stacy guilty of rioting and he was the only witness to testify to that effect.
The attorneys speculated that the jury could have become hung on the arson charge because, under Kentucky law, to be found guilty of first-degree arson there has to be proof that the arsonist intentionally set fire to an occupied building. There was no testimony that anyone was in the multi-purpose building when it was torched.
“I think the hang-up had to come over whether jurors believed the building was occupied or not,” McCollough said.
Bottoms said he will talk to investigators and Northpoint officials before deciding whether to offer Stacy a plea deal on the arson charge or pursue another trial.
“There are no plans to dismiss the charge,” he said.
The prosecutor said he likely will make that determination before Judge Peckler hands down Stacy’s formal sentence for rioting, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 2.