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Three convicted in vote-buying case

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LONDON -After four hours of deliberation Friday night, a jury found three Magoffin Countians - including a Magoffin County magistrate - guilty of conspiring to commit vote-buying in the 2014 primary and general elections.

In a jury trial that ran for four days last week, jurors heard testimony from 11 people, all of whom had been subpoenaed by the defense, that admitted to selling their votes in at least one of the 2014 Magoffin County elections (primary and/or general election).

In the superseding indictment filed on February 25, Magoffin County Magistrate District #1 Gary "Rooster" Risner, Tami Jo Risner, Mason Daniels, Scottie Lyn McCarty, and Larry Shepherd were charged with paying and offering to pay for votes in an election, broken down into 17 counts of felony offenses. Prior to the trial, McCarty took a plea agreement, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge in exchange for testimony, while the other four pleaded not guilty to the charges.

As was highlighted in last week's paper, McCarty testified on Tuesday, August 9, of his involvement in the alleged conspiracy, discussing strategies they supposedly used to rig elections, as well as conversations he was privy to about the conspiracy.

On Wednesday, August 10, Tressa Whittington, a forensic accountant for the FBI, took the stand, explaining to the jury mathematical calculations she had used to analyze the Magoffin County 2014 general election totals. She deduced that  certain races in that election were turned on absentee votes, which skewed the results and changed the outcome of several races. She made charts of her results for the county judge executive, county clerk, sheriff and magistrate (District 1) races, all of which had seemingly skewed results when comparing absentee voting versus election day voting. From her calculations, Charles Hardin, Carson Montgomery and Gary “Rooster” Risner had all won their elections because of absentee voting, specifically, though they were all losing to their opponents on election day.

On Thursday, August 11, jurors were shown a video, reportedly taken by Jamie Gibson, a witness in the case, of a conversation between him with Gary Risner.

In the video Gibson said, “Scottie shouldn't have – he set us up. He said, 'I'll give you $100,' then today said, 'no, just forget about that.'”

Gibson moved his phone, on which he was recording the video, out of his pocket and at times, the jurors can see Risner's face in the video.

From the recording played in court, Risner tells Gibson he will give him $100, at which time Gibson said he could get more people for $25 or $15.

Risner said he couldn't do that and he would have to see the people in person.

“If I give one $15 and one $50, they'll talk,” Risner said in the video. “The deal is $50.”

Gibson asks if he can get someone else for $50, if that would work, and Risner agrees.

“We don't want to get in court and all that bulls**t,” Risner told Gibson in the video. “We don't want to get into that.”

When asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Boone, Gibson said in his testimony on Thursday that the video accurately reflects the conversation the two had in Risner's truck. He explained that McCarty had reportedly told him to see Risner.

Boone asked Gibson what he understood the $100 to be for, to which he replied, “For my vote, sir.”

On cross-examination, Michael Curtis (Risner's attorney) pointed out that Gibson is a convicted felon with a past drug problem, which he affirmed.

FBI Special Agent Ken Kirk also took the stand on Thursday, explaining how his investigation developed and how he had come in contact with the witnesses in the case. Then, FBI Special Agent Randy Copley, who had conducted the vote-buying investigation that inevitably lead to Randy Salyer being convicted and sentenced for buying absentee paper ballots of registered voters in the 2010 Magoffin County election. Copley's testimony was used as evidence of a history of vote-buying in Magoffin County.

After the prosecution concluded on Thursday, August 11, Judge Danny C. Reeves heard motions from the defense.

Though all the defense attorneys asked for a judgment of acquittal for their clients, Judge Reeves agreed to acquit Tami Jo Risner on counts 2 and 3 of the superseding indictment, and Larry Shepherd of counts 2 and 4. Those three charges related to one witness that has a warrant out for her arrest for failure to appear (with U.S. Marshals looking for her) and to a deceased person who had allegedly sold her vote in 2014.

Curtis, Gary Risner's attorney, called Jerry Helton to the stand, who stated he has worked as either a precinct officer or challenger in elections for the past 20 years. When asked, Helton said he has no knowledge of gravel being used to buy votes.

He said he never saw large sums of money at Randy Salyer's home, and Risner never handed him $5,000 in cash for votes. He told the court that he was never part of a conversation about how to set up the precincts locations for election day, and testified that he has never switched any votes on a voting machine. Helton said he didn't know how to manipulate the machines and he never showed McCarty how to switch a vote.

Furthermore, Helton explained that if a ballot is not confirmed on the machine, the machine will start chirping, which creates an audit report, however, when asked if switching a vote would cause the chirping he said, “I don't think so.”

Upon questioning from Taylor, Helton said he never witnessed any evidence of vote buying in Magoffin County, despite working in the election Salyer was convicted for buying votes.

Doug Patrick took the stand, upon the request of Curtis, stating that he had never received county gravel on his property, nor had he bought or sold any votes. When asked if he knew McCarty's reputation in the community, Patrick said, “It ain't good.”

Curtis ended his defense for the day, but reserved the right to call another witness on Friday.

Willis Coffey, Tami Jo Risner's attorney, called Clay Mason to the stand, who identified himself as a licensed private investigator and former FBI agent. He affirmed that Coffey had hired him to interview a witness in the case that had stated Risner had bought his vote. Mason said that he interviewed the witness on May 14, 2016, and he named Garlienna Lovely, not Risner, as the one that bought his and his deceased girlfriend's votes in 2014, as well as transported them to the polls.

Joseph Lane, the attorney for Mason Daniels, called his client to the stand. Daniels confirmed that he cannot read well, only making it to his sophomore year in high school. He said he was never involved in politics, but decided to vote in 2014 because Carson Montgomery was running for sheriff. He explained that would be out of town on election day, so he went to the courthouse to vote absentee machine. Since he said he needed help reading, he filled out a voter assistance form and Larry Shepherd took him back to the machine and read the ballot to him. He said he can read well enough to know if what he was told was incorrect, and he was confident he had only voted in the sheriff's race on the ballot.

As for the two voters he is accused of buying their votes, he said the two had asked him for a ride to Speedway. He testified that once at Speedway, the two walked over to the courthouse and 30 or 40 minutes later they came back, put gas in Daniels vehicle and he took them home.

Jason Nemes, Larry Shepherd's attorney, told the court his witnesses were subpoenaed for Friday, and Curtis's last witness was also unavailable, concluding the witness testimony for the day Thursday.

On Friday, August 12, Gary Risner's attorney, Michael Curtis, called James Stacy to the stand, refuting another witness's testimony, stating they had received money from Risner for hanging up signs, not for vote-buying. 

Shepherd's attorney, Jason Nemes, called Manual Montgomery, the chairman for the Republican Party of Magoffin, who explained that he consulted with the Republican candidates in the 2014 election before appointing the Republican member to the county board of elections, as well as for the precinct officers. 

Garlena Workman and Justin Williams testified that they both worked the in-house absentee voting in the 2014 general election, and that even though they were looking for voting fraud, they did not witness any wrongdoing while they were in the courthouse during early voting. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Boone pointed out the Kentucky law that if the county board of elections staffs the in-house absentee voting, the county clerk and his/her staff cannot assist in voting, nor is the a candidate and his/her family allowed in the voting area - unless to vote - while voting is taking place, though neither Workman nor Williams knew about the law. Boone had the two identify voter assistance forms where Larry Shepherd had helped voters during absentee voting, despite the law. 

As a rebuttal witness, the prosecution called Robbie McCarty, who reiterated his brother, Scottie's testimony of hauling gravel for Hardin. 
They also called the woman who had been subpoenaed and found by US Marshals on Friday morning at around 2:30 a.m. in Pikeville, who reluctantly told how she had sold her vote to Tami Jo Risner, then was helped by Larry Shepherd while voting in-house absentee.

"I voted and he went back over the ballot to make sure I hadn't missed anything, then he submitted it," the witness said.

When cross-examined, she confirmed that, though he didn't watch her vote, he had looked back over her ballot to "make sure she hadn't missed any questions," before "sending it on." She said that was her first time voting and she didn't know how to work the machines. 

In closing arguments, Boone said, "We in the U.S., we have the right to choose who leads our state, city and county, and sometimes we take that right for granted. In Magoffin, that right was taken from them - they didn't get to pick their leaders.

They had their leaders chosen for them."

Curtis argued that the majority of the case was based on historical evidence that referred to past elections not on trial, as well as criticized the credibility of the first-hand witnesses. 

Willis Coffey, Tami Jo Risner's attorney, reiterated his earlier argument, stating that Garlienna Lovely was the one to blame, not his client, and also criticized the witnesses credibility, stating they had a connection to Lovely.  

Joseph Lane, the attorney for Mason Daniels, said it was only two witnesses' testimony against Daniels' testimony, and Daniels had taken the stand, answering questions properly and directly. He pointed out inconsistencies in the two witnesses' statements, stating to the jury that there is enough reasonable doubt to acquit Daniels.

Nemes, the attorney for Larry Shepherd, reiterated his earlier statements that vote-buying is a very terrible crime, but that all Shepherd had done was assist voters and nothing more.

"If there's no cell, there's no jail," Nemes stated, explaining that the lack of a cell phone in the case shows Shepherd could not have been a verifier in the conspiracy.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor closed, saying, "Doc Hardin is the head of the snake. If Scottie wanted to lie about anyone, it would have been Doc Hardin, and if he had made a statement about a meeting with Charles Hardin in 2014, he would have been in that first chair [pointing to the defendants' table]."

Taylor explained that the skewed election results between election day and absentee voting show that something influenced the election, and the sheer number of individual voters that had come forward, telling virtually the same story of how they sold their vote, proves the conspiracy happened.

"Even the people relied upon [referencing Williams and Workman], who wanted to keep it from happening, again, believe it did happen, again. And it will happen, again. Who's going to do something about it? Today, that somebody is you and if you don't do it, it doesn't get done," Taylor closed. 

The case was turned over to the jury at 5:55 p.m. After over four hours of deliberation, the jury returned at 10:11 p.m., and the verdicts as follows: Gary "Rooster" Risner was found guilty of counts 1, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Count 1 is the conspiracy charge and the rest of the 16 counts of the indictment reference individual votes allegedly bought. Risner was found not guilty of county 13. Tami Jo Risner was found guilty of counts 1, 6 and 7, and not guilty of counts 4 and 5 (which revolved around a deceased person who had allegedly sold her vote and her boyfriend). Larry Shepherd was found guilty of count 1, the conspiracy charge, and not guilty of count 3. Mason Daniels was found not guilty of all three charges (1, 8 and 9).

The three convicted on Friday are set for sentencing on December 1 in Pikeville and, with exception of Shepherd and his wife, they are not to have any contact with the witnesses in the case. They were released on supervision of the probation officer. McCarty is set for sentencing on a related misdemeanor charge on August 23, also in Pikeville.

After the verdicts were read, Taylor said he was satisfied, and stated, "The investigation continues."

Editor's Note: The indictment or charge of a person by a grand jury or otherwise is an accusation only and that person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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