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New prosecutors sought for murder retrial

In a legal dispute that continues to unfold, defense attorneyshave asked for new prosecutors to handle the retrial of accusedmurderer Michael Leggett, who was convicted in October 2006 deathof Jewel Duane Douglas.

A Lincoln County jury on Feb. 29 found Leggett, 33, guilty inthe killing of the 36-year-old Douglas. Leggett was triedseparately from co-defendant Mark Culbertson, who pleaded guilty tomanslaughter charges under an amended indictment the followingweek.

Lead defense attorney Joe Fernald filed a motion for a retrialbased on mistakes he perceived the prosecution of having madeduring the trial. Those included an allegation that the prosecutionhad a deal, which was not revealed to the jury, with Culbertson toreduce his sentence in exchange for his testimony in the Leggettrial.

Circuit Judge Mike Taylor granted the defense motion. He alsofound the state guilty of a laundry list of infractions that hedetermined amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.

District Attorney Dee Bates appealed of the judge’s ruling,including a motion to overturn the new trial order and asking thatTaylor recuse himself from further proceedings. Bates maintainedthere was never a deal, whether on paper or not, with Culbertsonand that he had volunteered to testify against Leggett.

On Thursday, Fernald filed a response to Bates’ motions, as wellas an additional motion for the DA’s office to be disqualified.

Fernald’s motion to disqualify the District Attorney’s officewas based on assertions the state’s conduct during the originaltrial affects their ability to properly prosecute the case.

“In (the Leggett’s defense’s) opinion, the District Attorney’soffice is unable to impartially and properly conduct this trialgiven his experience with them in his first trial and should bedisqualified immediately,” Fernald wrote in his motion todisqualify the prosecution.

The document requested that the 14th Circuit Court District turnthe case over to the state Attorney General’s office to handleprosecution.

In the defense’s response to the state’s motion, Fernaldclarified again that one of the two main issues with the originaltrial was that the state failed to alert the defense of anoutstanding indictment against one of the witnesses for theprosecution. The other assertion of the defense was the allegationthe state knew as early as the end of September that they would notbe able to prosecute Culbertson on a murder charge.

“The state also had an ethical legal duty to reveal theirintention to reduce Mr. Culbertson’s charge to manslaughter,”Fernald wrote.

Prosecutors have said throughout deliberations that they did notknow they would charge Culbertson with manslaughter until hearinghis testimony during Leggett’s trial.