By Lyra Bordelon
A motion for a new trial in the voluntary manslaughter case against Carl Rich was rejected in the Greenbrier County Circuit Court in a hearing on Friday, October 2. Rich, convicted for the death of Jay Booth in November 2019, filed for a new trial, citing issues with the impeachment of a witness and the recusal of the trial judge. Although a written order had not yet been filed, Judge Robert Richardson was able to announce his findings on Friday.
“As to the motion for a new trial, that motion will be denied in all respects,” said Richardson. “The court believes, in having reviewed the record as a whole, there was sufficient evidence to convince the jury to properly conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offense for which he was convicted.”
Before the trial, Bailes entered into an agreement with the state to tell the “truth” on the witness stand. The differences between Bailes testimony and his initial statements to police and a pretrial interview with the prosecution led Via to move to impeach him, a method of challenging the credibility of a witness’s testimony, despite his being a witness for the prosecution. In the defense’s argument, evidence introduced during Harold “Little Frankie” Bailes testimony, specifically if Rich told him to lock a door before the shooting occurred, was improperly introduced.
“While the court does find that the method of impeachment was flawed with regard to questions as to the law enforcement officer relative to the statement given by Mr. Bailes as to whether or not the door was locked or whether or not instruction was given for the door to be locked, any error by the trial judge relative to that issue was harmless.”
Richardson cited each side’s arguments during the trial, showing how the evidence could be interpreted in multiple ways.
“Locking the door or not locking the door would therefore have the same evidentiary value for the state and the defense because that action … would be consistent with the state’s theory of an intentional shooting and with the defense’s theory of simply trying to scare the victim into confessing the theft of a telephone. Either way, the error was one of a minor nature that did not affect, in the court’s view, the outcome of the case.”
Consideration around another potential grounds for a new trial, the recusal of Judge Jennifer Dent after the trial but before sentencing, was also rejected.
“The other grounds offered, … the transfer of this case from Judge Dent to me to be insufficient to grant a new trial,” Richardson said. “The defendant has not established any basis for concluding that the trial proceedings were not fair or were influenced in any way by the judge’s subsequent decision to transfer this matter.”
With Rich’s previous conviction for voluntary manslaughter in place, he will now face an entirely different trial for a potential recidivist sentence. Under the West Virginia State Code, a defendant can be charged as recidivist offender, often called the “three strikes and you’re out” rule, mandating life imprisonment if a “person shall have been twice before convicted in the United States of a crime punishable by confinement in a penitentiary, the person shall be sentenced to be confined in the state correctional facility for life.”
In January, Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via submitted a document in the case, titled “information regarding sentencing,” that laid out two previous convictions and sentences allegedly committed by Carl Rich. The offenses included a 2004 burglary and a 2010 instance of delivery of a controlled substance, cocaine. In order to charge Rich with recidivism charges, the prosecution is required by state code to prove that Rich is, in fact, the same Rich that committed and was sentenced for the previous offenses.
This form of expanded sentencing was cited in several hearings as the reason for Dent’s recusal from the case after trial – she was a part of the prosecuting attorney’s office and was present for hearings related for these previous cases.
Rich is allowed to plead, confirming he is the same Carl Rich, deny, or remain silent. If he pleads, the case would move forward to sentencing. A trial to establish that Rich is the same Carl Rich that committed the previous offenses is expected to move forward in the Circuit Court.