CHARLESTON – Two women who were convicted of obstructing a Mingo County murder investigation only to have the conviction overturned later by the state Supreme Court are now suing the West Virginia State Police and three individual troopers.
Wanda Carney and Betty Jarvis filed lawsuits April 27 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the State Police and troopers D.M. Nelson, A.S. Perdue and C.E. Akers.
The women were investigating the murder of Carla Collins, who was found dead in April 2005. George "Porgie" Lecco, a reputed Mingo drug dealer, and Valerie Friend were both convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.
Carney was an investigator for Charleston lawyer Michael Clifford. Jarvis was a friend of Carney and Clifford as well as an aunt of Walter Harmon, who had been charged in Collins' murder. Clifford had been retained to represent Harmon on the murder charges, which were later dropped.
According to Carney's and Jarvis' complaints in Kanawha Circuit Court, once Collins' body was found, Mingo County was rife with rumors that local law enforcement were assisting Lecco in his drug trade and that some officers may have had sexual relations with Collins.
Carney and Jarvis both went to Mingo County in order to investigate Collins' murder as part of the defense of Harmon.
They alleged that after the federal government took over the Collins murder investigation, the defendant troopers turned their attention to Carney and Jarvis.
The pair were eventually arrested and charged with burglary for searching a home owned by another of the defendants and rented to Friend.
But a grand jury in Mingo indicted Carney and Jarvis for obstructing police. The state argued that during interviews with witnesses, Carney and Jarvis brought up the rumors about the law enforcement misconduct, essentially creating a climate of distrust between the public and the police. The state said that the women were just in the area to make trouble for police and public officials, the complaint says.
Both women were convicted by a jury on Sept. 8, 2006.
But the state Supreme Court last year overturned the conviction, citing a lack of evidence. Justices noted that the allegations the state was making – that the women were questioning the rumors they'd heard – were related to constitutionally protected speech.
Carney and Jarvis are now suing the State Police on grounds of constitutional tort and negligence.
They're seeking compensatory and punitive damages for pain and suffering, lost income, humiliation and damaged reputations.
They're also asking the judge to order the troopers to participate in training on First Amendment rights.
Lonnie Simmons is representing both women. The cases are before Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib.
Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers: 09-C-770 and 09-C-771