Resident claims speedy trial rights violated

LISBON – A second round of testimony was heard this week regarding the motion of Vonlie Cooper’s attorney, James Hartford, who believes his client’s rights to a speedy trial have been violated.

Cooper, 25, of Weirton, was charged in early 2012 with failure to comply with the ordinance or signal of a police officer and two counts of possession of drugs. Cooper was reportedly shot in the foot by a highway patrol trooper while running away on March 2, 2012.

Last month, a motion hearing was held regarding why there had been no trial for Cooper between March 2012 and Nov. 5, 2013, when Hartford filed a motion to dismiss the charge for lack of prosecution in a speedy manner.

The state typically has 270 days to bring someone to trial. As of Nov. 5, 2013, Hartford contends, 594 days had passed.

In January, Judge C. Ashley Pike heard testimony from Sgt. Robert Dowling of the sheriff’s office who explained efforts taken to locate Cooper during that time period. Cooper also took the stand claiming he was on house arrest for 18 months in Chester between March 27, 2012 and Aug. 22, 2013.

On Wednesday, Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones brought three more witnesses to the stand to explain why Cooper was not located during that time period, which in her opinion delays the trial time.

Adam Hudek, the Hancock County probation department’s house arrest officer, testified he supervised Cooper from March 2012 until April 2013 when Cooper’s house arrest GPS unit was found under a dumpster in Weirton. He also testified that in February 2013, Sgt. Brian Swann of the Hancock County sheriff’s office contacted him about a warrant out of Ohio for Cooper, but at the time Hudek said Cooper had just gotten out of the hospital following surgery and was recovering.

Swann testified he had stumbled across the warrant for Cooper on the Columbiana County sheriff’s office website’s 10 most wanted link. Familiar with Cooper, he had taken steps to call Lt. Allan Young of the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Department in order to determine if the warrant was still valid. However, after learning about Cooper’s surgery and recovery and talking about it with Young, Swann said it was determined to wait before executing the fugitive from justice extradition warrant he had obtained for Cooper in West Virginia.

After Cooper ran in April, he was later picked up by the U.S. Marshal’s Office Fugitive Task Force.

Young, who was on the drug task force at the time, was questioned by Hartford as to whether Cooper was actually cooperating with the DTF in a drug bust operation he described in detail, which allegedly occurred in March 2013. Young denied being part of the operation Hartford talked about and denied calling those charged with criminal charges and attempting to involve them in DTF operations. Young also denied giving Cooper Marlboro cigarettes behind the county jail at one point, noting he himself quit smoking in 1991.

At the end of Wednesday’s testimony, Hartford continued to contend Cooper’s rights are being violated “because people didn’t want to take responsibility.” He noted there was “indolence” another word for general laziness, on the part of those supposed to be looking for Cooper, who was in his opinion easy to locate while on house arrest for at least a year in Hancock County.

“Vonlie Cooper has had his constitutional rights violated,” Hartford said. “Vonlie Cooper has had his statutory right to a speedy trial violated and I believe the testimony over the two days have shown those rights have been violated.”

Jones contended from Feb. 22, 2013 until September 2013, she was awaiting Cooper to be extradicted to Ohio. During that time, she believes any time should not be counted, especially due to Cooper cutting off his house arrest monitor in April. Following that time he was caught and incarcerated in West Virginia until September. By her calculations, Jones said there remains 99 days to bring Cooper to trial.

Pike took the motion under advisement. A status conference is set for the case on Monday.