By Jean A. Flanagan
Moorefield Examiner –
The Hardy County grand jury recently indicted 13 people on felony charges ranging from sexual assault of a child to possession with intent to distribute prescription drugs. While law enforcement goes to great lengths to investigate crime, gather evidence, and arrest the perpetrator, it seems highly unlikely any of those people will go to jail for their crimes.
In 2013, there were 42 felony indictments in Hardy County. Of those, six were prosecuted by the federal government, six were remanded to Drug Court and six were sentenced to jail, including two who were dismissed from Drug Court. The others were given suspended sentences and five years probation.
“In the four years I’ve been here, I have never been called once to testify in a trial,” said Moorefield Police Chief Steve Reckart. “It’s very disheartening for my officers. They do good police work, making sure everything is by the book and find out the suspects are back out on the streets.”
“What is aggravating for law enforcement is that often when people commit a first offense, it is, through a plea agreement, reduced to a lesser crime,” said Hardy County Sheriff Bryan Ward. “When they commit the same offense again, it’s not legally considered a second offense.”
For example, Ward said an individual with eight driving while intoxicated arrests was still driving because the charges were reduced through plea agreements.
Historically, only the most heinous of criminals are sent to prison from Hardy County and there are very few jury trials.
Perhaps that’s the way it should be. “We should send people to jail who we are afraid of, not people we’re mad at,” former Circuit Court Judge Donald H. Cookman said.
Cookman, now a West Virginia State Senator, was the driving force behind the South Branch Valley Drug Court, an alternative sentencing option for nonviolent substance abusers who commit felony crimes.