Filing in Wood wrongful prosecution suit suggests win-at-all costs mentality

By Lawrence Smith | Sep 7, 2010

PARKERSBURG – A Wood County businessman says the win-at-all costs mentality from the investigation through the appellate stage in the criminal case against him is enough for his lawsuit against two Wood County prosecutors and two Wood County deputy sheriffs to go to trial.

In a recent filing made in his wrongful prosecution suit against former Wood County Prosecutor Ginny Conley, one of her assistants, Sean Francisco and Wood County Deputy Sheriffs Bret Pickens and Dave Tennant, Jeff Corra alleges all four either ignored or bypassed legal and procedural safeguards for the sole purpose of gaining a conviction against him relating to the deaths of two young adults and injuries to two others in 2006. Not only does he say there was evidence immediately available that he played no part in their deaths and injuries, but Corra also alleges prosecutors all but admitted during his appeal they had no case against him.

In response to his complaint, Conley, Francisco, Tennant and Pickens filed a motion to dismiss March 18. In the motion, their attorney, Wendy Greve -- with the Charleston law firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe -- argued, at least for Conley and Francisco, the suit should be dismissed because prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from civil suits while initiating criminal actions.

Also, Greve argues the case against Tennant and Pickens should be dismissed because the allegations Corra makes against them -– intimidating witnesses and making false, and unsubstantiated comments under oath, respectively -– came after the two-year statute of limitations. Furthermore, because Pickens' statement came in the course of his testimony before the grand jury, he, too enjoys absolute immunity.

The evidence

In his response to the motion to dismiss filed Aug. 26, Corra, 54, who runs his own packaging and shipping business, admits all the defendants enjoy some level of immunity from civil suits. However, he claims that immunity was breached when they "wantonly, knowingly and intentionally" investigated and prosecuted him despite knowing he was innocent.

Following the single-vehicle accident on Aug. 6, 2006, which led to the deaths of Matthew Humphreys and Jeffrey Tucker and injuries to Courtney McDonough and Morgan Brown, Corra alleges he was only interviewed once by Tennant. That came while he and his daughter, Ashli, were visiting McDonough and Brown at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Corra avers that Tennant only asked him to provide a statement, and never told him he was considered a suspect.

Also, Corra alleges Pickens, who was the crash scene investigator, had evidence that it was someone other than himself who furnished alcohol to the four as was alleged in the indictment filed against him during the September 2006 term of the Wood County grand jury. Among the contents Pickens discovered at the scene was a bottle of Jagermeister, a case of beer, a fake identification "and a receipt from the 7-Eleven in Parkersburg showing where either Humphreys or Tucker purchased a case of beer using the fake identification after leaving [Corra's] home and before the accident."

Furthermore, Corra alleges Pickens never interviewed either Humphreys' or Tucker's surviving family members about the fake I.D. or the bottle of Jagermeister. In a deposition she provided in a wrongful death lawsuit she as the administratrix of his estate filed against the Corras and 7-Eleven, Sarah Humphreys, Matthew's mother, said the boys purchased the Jagermeister in Charleston before meeting McDonough and Brown in Parkersburg.

After arriving in Parkersburg, Humphreys said the bottle was given to Brown's parents who chilled it, and later gave it back to them before the four headed to Corra's house in Rector Road in north Parkersburg. Pickens, Corra alleges, also failed to consider the Browns as suspects.

Manufacturing a crime

In his response, Corra restates some of the allegations made in his original complaint. Among them are Conley getting the grand jury to later indict him in January 2007 on two counts of involuntary manslaughter only to never bring the case to trial.

Though the case should have been dismissed in January 2008, while Conley was still in office, she left that duty to her successor, Jason Wharton, who waited nine months after he took office to file a motion to dismiss.

One new allegation Corra raises in his response is a comment made by Francisco when the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in January 2009 on Corra's appeal of his August 2007 conviction on the furnishing alcohol charges. When asked by Justice Menis Ketchum how was it Corra was prosecuted for furnishing alcoholic liquor to minors when the only evidence against him was that McDonough snuck a Coors Light beer from his refrigerator, Francisco allegedly replied " 'We had to charge him [Corra] with something.'"

Corra disputes Greve's claim that his lawsuit was filed past the statute of limitations. He says the "totality of Defendants' actions did not become apparent until Plaintiff retained new counsel and successfully appealed to the Supreme Court."

"Since he filed the instate [sic] suit on February 25, 2010 – a year after the Court overturned his conviction – the Plaintiff has not tolled the statute of limitations," Corra said.

Following his conviction, Corra fired his attorney, George Cosenza, and hired Charleston attorney Jim Cagle to help with his appeal. Along with the wrongful prosecution suit, Corra has a pending legal malpractice suit against Cosenza.

Also, Corra says Greve misread his complaint regarding the alleged statement Pickens made about him having parties at his house for years which eventually led to Humphreys' and Tucker's deaths. That statement was made at his sentencing, and not to the grand jury, Corra says.

In concluding his response, Corra states while the prosecutor's role is to be the advocate for victims of crime by prosecuting the alleged offenders, they also have a duty to ensure the correct offenders are charged.

"The duties of the police and prosecutors go beyond that of protecting the public from criminals," Corra said. "They have a duty to be finders of fact and not charge someone with a crime where none exists."

A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for Sept. 16 before Judge Jeffrey B. Reed.

Wood Circuit Court case number 10-C-79

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