Jury Decides Whitehair Is Innocent
In the two-day jury trial of Kathleen Ann Whitehair versus the state held May 3 and 4, the jury found Whitehair innocent of her one-count indictment of felony delivery of a controlled substance (cocaine) that allegedly occurred on April 26, 2009, in Smithfield. Whitehair’s personal recognizance bond was also released.
The trial began at 9 a.m. on Monday. Jury selection was completed at noon and resumed at approximately 1 p.m. beginning with the opening arguments. Wetzel County Prosecutor Tim Haught began his opening argument with the acknowledgment of Whitehair’s true bill and proceeded to explain what the state’s evidence would show in the case of Whitehair. He pointed out the stipulation that the court was in agreement over the substance of the case in fact being cocaine, a schedule II controlled, narcotic substance.
The state intended to prove that on April 26, 2009, around 8 p.m. in Smithfield, Whither delivered cocaine to a cooperating individual (CI)-a person who is working with the state police or other law enforcement to make a drug purchase. The CI in this case was Mikeal Craft who testified along with his mother, Teresa Craft. Mikeal’s mother was loosely involved in the matter, as she drove Mikeal to Smithfield to make the purchase since Mikeal’s license was suspended.
Furthermore, as is standard procedure for a controlled buy, a micro-cassette recording was made during the transaction. The recorder was stashed above the front passenger seat visor. Haught’s first witness was Sgt. Jeff Shriver of the West Virginia State Police Hundred detachment, who explained the protocol for a controlled buy, including background checks and personal searches before and after the transaction. Shriver testified that he followed the Crafts to the Smithfield location and parked roughly two-tenths of a mile away to observe the purchase. Shriver said he observed a female subject with long, dark brown hair approach and get into the Craft’s van. Afterward the Crafts identified the deliverer as Kathleen A. Whitehair, and the $350 “eight-ball” of cocaine (2.14 grams) was retrieved and sent to the crime lab, then kept in the evidence room at the Hundred police barracks. Also retrieved was the cassette tape recording.
Mikeal Craft was on probation at the time of his work with the state police. He’d violated his probation and contacted the state police volunteering himself as a CI to avoid a violation charge. Shriver indicated this was the normal process for getting a cooperative individual. Haught asked Shriver what the best evidence in his mind was that Whitehair made this delivery. Shriver replied he had prior knowledge of Whitehair as a suspected cocaine dealer, and additionally Mikeal Craft had said he could get it from her, and her name was mentioned on the cassette tape. More importantly, Shriver stated the Crafts, as eye-witnesses, identified the dealer as Whitehair. He said he had no reason to not believe the Crafts.
“This case is about identity,” Brent Clyburn, Whitehair’s attorney, stated during his opening argument. Clyburn further stated Whitehair couldn’t have done it because she was somewhere else at the time. Her alibis include her son, Jeremy Whitehair, and Tom Snodgrass, her employer. Clyburn also addressed the court saying Mikeal Craft was a person in trouble who was willing to do whatever it took to not go to jail. Other arguments included the many quick details the female deliverer makes on the recording. Several personal details are discussed, however there was also information given which tends to go against actual facts regarding Whitehair. Conflicting details including a car inspection in Fairmont and statements about the Whitehair family being harassed by law enforcement did not match actual facts that Kathleen Whitehair had her car inspected in Wileyville and was up to date. Additionally, Whitehair claimed she’d never been pulled over or harassed by law enforcement.
The element of the case which best proved Whitehair’s innocence was her alibi from her employer, Tom Snodgrass. Snodgrass hired and paid Whitehair out-of-pocket to clean and cook for him every Sunday (except Easter Sunday) for roughly nine hours. Snodgrass testified every Sunday he’d go to church, pick her up from her home, take her to his residence to work, then drop her off in the evening as he headed to his night shift work in the coal mines around 9:30 p.m.
Haught’s second witness, Mikeal Craft gave a surprising testimony. Soon labeled in the courtroom as an adverse witness, Craft appeared to not remember anything about this case, his involvement, or his conversation with Haught’s investigator Terry Long conducted at the Northern Regional Jail just days before. When asked why such memory loss, Craft stated he’d suffered a head injury as a result of a fall only a few days ago. Haught later addressed the court stating Craft must have not wanted to be considered a narc, thus testifying only to that he could not remember anything about the case. “It seems to me that if Mikeal Craft wanted to set up Ms. Whitehair, it would have been much easier for him to say, ‘Whitehair delivered the drugs to me’ as opposed to what he did say,” Haught concluded during his closing argument on Tuesday afternoon.
Haught then called Mikeal Craft’s mother, Teresa, to the stand. Teresa Craft identified Kathleen A. Whitehair in the courtroom and further affirmed this same Kathleen Whitehair was the woman delivering cocaine on the evening in question. However, Teresa stated she didn’t pay any attention to the transaction past seeing Whitehair approach the van, and therefore could not say for complete certainty what transpired that evening. “It had nothing to do with me so I didn’t really pay attention,” Teresa reiterated. When asked if she knew a Christy Anderson, Teresa Craft replied she did know her. She was then asked if Anderson was the woman approaching the van; the reply was negative. Clyburn cross-examined Ms. Craft, asking her to describe Christy Anderson’s appearance. She replied that Christy was 5-feet, 5-inches with blonde hair and brown eyes, mid-40s in age and of a larger body type. Teresa Craft said Anderson and Whitehair had different body types. Christy Anderson resides in the apartment wherein a female subject approached the van and delivered cocaine to Mikeal Craft.
Trial resumed on Tuesday at 9 a.m. with the testimony of Victims Advocate and investigator Terry Long. Long was called to the stand by Haught to testify his meeting with Mikeal Craft in the Northern Regional Jail on April 22. Long visited with Mr. Craft to discuss Whitehair’s case and said he’d remembered everything that happened, including saying it was Kathleen A. Whitehair who delivered the cocaine. Furthermore, they discussed how he’d feel taking the stand and Long said Mr. Craft expressed no concern or reluctance over testifying.
The defense then called its first witness, Jeremy Whitehair, the son of the defendant. Mr. Whitehair said the female voice on the cassette did not sound like his mother’s and also pointed out to the court that the woman saying their phone number gave the number differently than Kathleen Whitehair ever does. He noted the female voice said, “29-91” and asserted that his mother always gives phone numbers singly, meaning “2-9-3-1.”
Jeremy Whitehair knew Mikeal Craft through school. He also knew Christy Anderson and described her the same way Teresa Craft did. Interesting to the case however was that Jeremy Whitehair and his friend, William Aberegg (who also testified), were pulled over in Kathleen Whitehair’s car the very afternoon of April 26, 2009, for crossing left of center. The two gentlemen made similar testimony regarding the events of April 26, 2009. It was said that after Ms. Whitehair left with Mr. Snodgrass to begin her Sunday work the two gentlemen took the car and stopped at a few locations in the Pine Grove area and were pulled over around 4 p.m. and given a warning citation. After that the two drove to Aberegg’s residence, then to the Whitehair’s home where they were the rest of the evening. Neither Jeremy Whitehair or Aberegg mentioned physically seeing or speaking to Kathleen Whitehair that night. They both affirmed they were sure Snodgrass had brought Ms. Whitehair home by way of Snodgrass’ distinct engine sound and recognizable headlights.
Through Mr. Whitehair’s testimony it was revealed that he had recently testified for Snodgrass in his case against the Wetzel County Board of Education. Haught found this fact to be very convenient for Mr. Whitehair to testify for Snodgrass, who then in turn testified for Kathleen Whitehair. Mr. Whitehair claimed there was no such convenient arrangement.
Next Tom Snodgrass was called to testify. It was prefaced that Snodgrass lives alone and knew the Whitehairs through his occupation as a teacher at Hundred High School. He also visited Jeremy Whitehair while he was on home-bound education. Additionally, Snodgrass knew Mr. Whitehair through Snodgrass’ case against the board. Mr. Whitehair had come forward in that incident, admitting and testifying to putting pornographic photos onto Snodgrass’ school computer.
From October or November 2008 to August 2009 Snodgrass employed Kathleen Whitehair to cook and clean at his home on Sundays. He testified that he consistently brought her back to her residence around 9:30 p.m. on his way to begin the night shift at the mines. Haught questioned if Snodgrass kept any records of her employment, or if he had any specific recollections of April 26, 2009, to prove she was with him. Snodgrass underlined that as long as April 26, 2009, was not Easter Sunday, he was positive she was with him and not in Smithfield.
It was also brought up by Haught that perhaps Snodgrass may have a bias or prejudice against law enforcement or the West Virginia State Police in particular, given his previous run-ins with the law. Snodgrass stressed he did not have any bias, but repeated the statement that in fact, it was law enforcement that had a prejudice against him.
The last witness Clyburn called was Kathleen A. Whitehair herself. When asked if she delivered cocaine to Mikeal Craft on April 26, 2009, she very sternly and steadfastly said “No, I did not.” Ms. Whitehair testified that the voice did not sound like her, and was in fact not hers based on the similar testimony her son gave regarding the recording. There was a discrepancy in stories, however, when Ms. Whitehair said she received a telephone message about her son and Aberegg being pulled over, wherein she approached the two men the evening of April 26, 2009. Her son and Aberegg never mentioned they saw or spoke to her that evening.
Kathleen Whitehair went on to say her 1994 Ford Explorer was inspected in Wileyville and was up to date at the time of the alleged incident. She further stated she was at Snodgrass’ home doing her work that day and that she did not return to her home until her usual return around 9:30 p.m.
She further gave testimony about how she was friends with Christy Anderson around this time and had a key to Anderson’s apartment. She also said Anderson intentionally left her place unlocked for her and her son.
Haught called for rebuttal witness Christy Anderson. Christy was asked if she ever delivered cocaine and if she ever delivered cocaine on April 26, 2009, to Mikeal Craft. She promptly replied no to both questions. She affirmed the once-friendly relationship she had with Kathleen Whitehair, saying she left her residence unlocked for their benefit. However, when asked if she provided a key to Ms. Whitehair, she denied that as well.
Closing arguments commenced between the state and the defense. They addressed the jury, reiterating the facts and evidence presented one last time before deliberation. During his closing remarks, Haught told the jury, “Sometimes the right thing is the hard thing to do.” Clyburn asked the jury to objectively weigh the reasonable doubt in the case against Kathleen Whitehair. As the case was the burden of the state, Haught was granted the last word before the jury’s deliberation. He spoke about how we live in a society of blame shifters and advised the jury to beware of such persons. He closed with a quote by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
After careful deliberation the 12-member jury unanimously found Kathleen Ann Whitehair innocent.