PARKERSBURG –- A Wood County businessman may soon be able to put on trial officials who had a hand in wrongfully prosecuting him for crimes related to a 2006 automobile fatality.
Wood Circuit Judge Jeffrey B. Reed on September 16 denied a motion filed by two Wood County prosecutors, and two deputy sheriffs to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them by Jeff Corra. In February, Corra, 54, owner of a Parkersburg packing and shipping business, filed suit against Ginny Conley, Sean Francisco, Dave Tennant and Bret Pickens alleging they were overzealous in their investigation, and prosecution of him on misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol to minors.
The Wood County grand jury in September 2006 indicted Corra on nine counts of furnishing alcoholic liquor to minors after Courtney McDonough and Morgan Brown were injured, and Jeffrey Tucker and Matthew Humphreys were killed in a single-vehicle accident after leaving Corra's home on Rector Road in north Parkersburg on Aug. 6, 2006.
Four months later, Corra was indicted on two counts of involuntary manslaughter, also a misdemeanor, for the deaths of Tucker and Humphreys.
In lieu of responding to Corra's complaint, the four opted to ask the suit be dismissed. Their attorney, Wendy Greve, cited multiple grounds for dismissal including Conley and Francisco having absolute immunity from civil suits in the course of initiating criminal actions, and the claims made against Tennant and Pickens coming after the statute of limitations had expired.
During the hearing, Corra summarized his position saying "everything the prosecution has come after with has actually failed." He touched on how the state Supreme Court in February 2009 overturned his August 2007 conviction on the furnishing alcohol charges, and how the prosecutor's office did not timely dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charges after failing to bring the case to trial.
"The prosecution and Sheriff's Department centered their whole investigation around me when all evidence lead elsewhere," Corra said. "There was no evidence to show that I had anything to do with the deaths of two people."
The fight to exonerate himself, Corra said, has consumed his life over the last four years costing him at least $125,000. Corra said he found it "disturbing" the lengths the defendants went in order to get a conviction against him on misdemeanor charges in light of no evidence he committed a crime.
"To know that people in these positions of power are allowed to conduct themselves in this manner is extremely disturbing to me," Corra said. "How can anyone possibly win if the prosecution has no rules to abide by, and in all of this, how can anyone possibly receive a fair trial?"
In rebuttal, Greve said she strongly objected to many of the characterizations Corra made in his statement. In addition to restating her position that Corra failed to timely file his suit within the statute of limitations when the acts allegedly occurred, and not after the Supreme Court's ruling, Greve said he also failed to state a claim of defamation, particularly against Francisco and Pickens, for alleged false statements they made against Corra in the course of his trial.
Because there were no dates specified in Corra's original complaint, Reed said, at least for now, he would have to deny the motion to dismiss on the statute of limitations grounds since "there are really no facts on which the Court can say the statute of limitations begins or ends."
Moving on the grounds of immunity, Reed acknowledged Tennant and Pickens, as Sheriff's deputies, do enjoy some level of immunity, but it is breached if they act outside the scope of their authority. If Tennant did aid in threatening witnesses, and Pickens falsely testified about Corra having parties at his house as Corra alleges, then the case against them should proceed to trial.
Also, the case against Conley and Francisco should also proceed to trial, Reed said, based on the allegations that Francisco, along with Tennant, possibly threatened witnesses in Corra's furnishing alcohol trial, and that Conley and Francisco did not timely prosecute, and later dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charges.
After denying the motion to dismiss, Reed gave Greve until Oct. 7 to file an answer to Corra's suit. In concluding the hearing, he also set November 15 for a scheduling conference.
Wood Circuit Court case number 10-C-79