Prosecutor Recused From Howell Case
According to an order entered on July 17 by the Honorable Judge David W. Hummel, Jr., Prosecuting Attorney Timothy E. Haught has been recused from Case No. 11-F-15, the State of West Virginia vs. John Michael Howell.
This ruling by Judge Hummel comes after a motion to recuse the Wetzel County Prosecutor’s Office was entered by Howell’s attorneys, Patricia A. Kurelac and Martin P. Sheehan, on July 16. The motion recaps the events that took place on July 15, when Howell spit on Prosecutor Haught in open court.
The motion states that, “On entering the room, the Defendant passed his chair at the defense table and went to the State’s table. There the Defendant addressed the Prosecutor Timothy Haught and said he had something for him. Then the Defendant spit on Mr. Haught . . .” The statement ends by recapping that Howell had cursed at Haught.
Attorneys Sheehan and Kurelac state in the motion that following the incident Haught was upset and expressed his intention to have a special prosecutor appointed and to seek charges for the incident.
The motion states, “In the instant case, the spitting episode might be admissible as evidence of consciousness of guilt, akin to flight evidence, and would be admissible at the penalty phase of the kidnapping charges. The Prosecutor has a potential conflict of interest under Rule 1.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Mr. Haught’s personal animus to the Defendant as a result of having been spit on would undoubtedly create tension with his duties as Prosecutor to represent the State in a detached and professional manner, with his personal desire for retribution.”
The motion entered by the defense counsel further argues that “Mr. Haught may be a necessary witness in the instant case either to introduce the evidence of spitting as evidence of consciousness of guilt and/or as part of the mercy/no mercy determination that would be part of the sentencing phase of a kidnapping charge.”
The motion states that “recusal of the entire office is warranted, as Mr. Paul, the only Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, was at counsel table, and similar considerations apply.”
“Wherefore, the defendant moves to Recuse the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.”
A motion was filed that same day by Sheehan and Kurelac, moving to withdraw as counsel for Howell, “as a result of a spitting incident.”
On July 17, Judge Hummel’s order stated that “In light of the extraordinary procedural history of the above-styled case, making it unlike any other, and the ends of Justice for All, it is the order of this Court that the Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney’s office is Sua Sponte recused of and from further prosecuting this matter.”
Hummel’s order further states that the order “is in no way intended, nor is it, a negative comment on the quality of legal representation the Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Timothy E. Haught have put into representing The State of West Virginia and its citizens. It is with sincere reluctance and out of an abundance, if not over-abundance, of caution that the undersigned determined to rule as it is has herein.”
Judge Hummel did deny Howell’s counsels’ motion to withdraw themselves from the case.
On Jan. 18, 2011, Howell pleaded innocent to his four-count indictment charging him with felony offenses of a sexual and violent nature said to have occurred on or about Dec. 14, 2010, in Wetzel County.
Howell faces one count each of the felony offenses of kidnapping, second degree attempted sexual assault, first degree sexual assault, and malicious assault (respective to counts one through four) for acts allegedly committed against his wife. The two had been separated since August 2010 and have a child in common.
The case has been a long-winding one, as a number of matters have arisen during its duration. Howell has had approximately five other attorneys prior to his current counsel-Sheehan and Kurelac. Also, the case was also formerly presided by Judge Mark A. Karl, who recused himself in October 2013.
When asked if he had comment on the matter, Haught issued the following statement: “I will refrain from comment as Mr. Howell’s actions have resulted in a new criminal investigation and potential prosecution by a special prosecutor who has not been formally appointed. With respect to the pending case, I understand and respect the Judge’s decision. I cannot comment further as the case is pending.
In last week’s editorial, the Wetzel Chronicle stated that either the Northern Regional Jail attendants or the Wetzel County Sheriff should have intervened in the Howell spitting incident. Since that publication, we have learned that the NRJ officers are only charged with transporting defendants to a holding area at the court and are not responsible for them upon arrival. Therefore our assertion would have been incorrect.