PARKERSBURG - A year after he was exonerated by the state Supreme Court, a Wood County man has turned the tables on those whom he says wrongfully accused him of furnishing alcohol to minors.
Jeff Corra on Feb. 25 filed suit in Wood Circuit Court against four people he says played a role in wrongfully prosecuting him on criminal charges in 2006 and 2007. Named in his suit are Assistant Wood County Prosecutor Sean Francisco, former Wood County Prosecutor Ginny Conley and Wood County Deputy Sheriffs Dave Tennant and Brent Pickens.
In his complaint, Corra alleges all four share responsibility for pressing charges of furnishing alcohol to minors, and involuntary manslaughter despite having little or no evidence to sustain the charges, and a conviction.
According to court records, Corra was indicted in September 2006 on nine counts of furnishing alcoholic liquor to minors. The indictment accused Corra of serving alcohol to friends of his daughter, Ashli, during an impromptu party at their home on Rector Road on Aug. 6, 2006.
Though the friends were over the age of 18 at the time, all were still under the legal drinking age of 21.
Later that evening, Morgan Brown, Matthew Humphreys and Joshua Tucker, who were riding together with Courtney McDonough left the party, and were involved in a single vehicle accident on Rosemar Road in Parkersburg. The accident resulted in Brown being injured, and the deaths of Humphreys and Tucker.
Three months after the furnishing charges, Corra was indicted on two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Corra denied the charges against him saying that when Ashli's friends came to visit, he was outside burning brush. Also, he later learned that not only did one of the visitors use a fake ID to purchase alcohol at a convenience store, but McDonough snuck a Coors Light beer from his refrigerator.
Nevertheless, he was convicted in August 2007 on four of the furnishing counts. He was found not guilty on three others, and the two remaining counts were dismissed.
Eighteen months later, the Supreme Court overturned Corra's conviction citing the failure by both Francisco, who prosecutors assigned to the case, and Corra's then-defense attorney, George Cosenza, to point out that Corra was being prosecuted under the wrong law. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Menis Ketchum, the Court said "it is apparent that neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel read the statutes relating to the crime of furnishing 'alcoholic liquors' before the jury reached its verdict."
"The prosecutor" Ketchum added, "mistakenly informed a busy trial judge that beer was the same as alcoholic liquor for the purpose of proving the indictment. Likewise, it is not disputed that when the circuit court asked at the charge conference whether he should instruct the jury on the definition of alcoholic liquor, defense counsel stated that an instruction was not necessary because beer was an alcoholic liquor."
In August, Corra filed a legal malpractice suit against Cosenza's law firm. The case is still pending.
Due process lacking
In his recent suit, Corra maintains that the furnishing charges should have never gone to trial let alone the Supreme Court. He alleges his rights of due process were repeatedly violated.
Specifically, Corra alleges nobody witnessed him serving any alcohol, much less beer, to any of the visitors that night. Not only should that have negated the furnishing, but also the involuntary manslaughter charges.
Despite the lack of any probable cause, Corra says Conley attempted to first secure an indictment against him in September 2006 along with the furnishing charges. When the grand jury failed to return a true bill, Corra alleges Conley "went back to the Grand Jury, changed the information and got the information on the two counts of involuntary manslaughter."
Furthermore, Corra alleges the charges were "never set for trial and held long after the three terms of court rule required by law to prosecute a case." Since he was indicted on the involuntary manslaughter charges in January 2007, they should have been dismissed in January 2008 for the prosecutor's office failing to bring the case to trail with a year or three terms of the court.
Records show the charges were eventually dismissed in September 2009.
In regard to the furnishing charges, Corra accuses the prosecutor's office of "holding all information, facts and witnesses until one week prior to trial." Also, though he does not provide specifics, Corra says that both Francisco and Tennant "intimidated" two witnesses, Katelyn Smith and Cory Chichester, at the courthouse during a recess.
Furthermore, Corra alleges toward the end of the trial, Francisco either made or allowed comments to be made that were prejudicial and inflammatory.
Specifically, he says during closing arguments Francisco, with a bottle of beer in his hand, began staggering and slurring his words to portray Corra as being drunk, and hitting on his one of Ashli's girlfriends. He avers there was never any allegation he'd consumed any alcohol that night or talked inappropriately with Ashli's friend.
Also, Corra alleges Pickens made the statement during the trial that "'Mr. Corra has been having parties out there for years and this time it caused the deaths of two people.'" The statement was made with Pickens having information that the source of the alcohol was from someone other than him.
In his suit, Corra alleges the actions of all four was "extreme and outrageous" and done with the intent of causing him "emotional distress." As a result of having to fight the "unsubstantiated and false allegations" against him, Corra maintains his suffered "Past, present and future pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, annoyance, aggravation, inconvenience and psychological distress."
Corra, who filed the suit pro se, seeks unspecified damages and court costs.
Wood Circuit Court case number 10-C-79