Special judge to make grand jury decision in Mississippi County jail case

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The struggle over seating a grand jury to investigate money missing from the Mississippi County Jail now includes a judge accused of being too cozy with potential suspects and a prosecutor allegedly unwilling to back up words with actions.

In a letter to the Sikeston Standard Democrat newspaper, Judge David Dolan on Tuesday announced he would not decide whether to call a grand jury. Instead, he will leave it up to a special judge.

But in the letter, Dolan said he's not stepping aside for the reasons cited by Mississippi County Prosecuting Attorney Darren Cann in a motion for a different judge. Cann apparently accused Dolan of being too friendly with people who would be targeted in the investigation.

"The prosecutor claims there is a close social relationship with the former Sheriff Larry Turley and Circuit Clerk Karen Turley, wife of the former sheriff, and former jail administrator Don Chance," Dolan wrote. "The business relationship with the Circuit Clerk's office is no different than that relationship of Mr. Cann."

The questions of missing money surfaced after State Auditor Claire McCaskill began auditing the jail commissary fund in 2004. Up to $23,000 was apparently missing from the fund, money that was paid by inmates for snacks and telephone calls.

McCaskill reported sloppy cash handling, poor bookkeeping and other questionable practices in the jail. Don Chance, jail administrator at the time, claims that while some accounting practices may not have been the best, he stole no money and that computer problems in the telephone system can be blamed for the vast majority of the shortfall.

Missouri State Highway Patrol investigators began looking into the case in August 2004. A special prosecutor was brought in from the attorney general's office because former Mississippi County prosecutor Jennifer Rafferty claimed a conflict of interest.

Cann, who took office in September 2004, brought the investigation back into his control in November 2005. He began pressing for a grand jury, which can hear evidence and file charges behind closed doors.

Dolan, in his letter, said he suggested that Cann file a complaint in open court and follow procedures for handling the case in public. He said he would step aside and allow the Missouri Supreme Court to appoint a judge to handle the charges.

"I indicated that this would be done to avoid even the appearance that anyone connected with the court was doing anything wrong or improper," Dolan wrote.

"No one has stopped him from proceeding with a criminal charge by filing a felony complaint on information and beliefs," Dolan wrote. "Should Mr. Cann determine those charges need to be filed he could do so immediately."

As to his personal relationship with anyone who could potentially be charged, Dolan said he is "discouraged that Mr. Cann has chosen to cast a pall of impartiality in regard to this investigation."

Neither Cann nor the Turleys could be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Chance, the former jail administrator, said he's not a friend of the judge. He's had lunch with Dolan, he said, but only in a setting with numerous others connected to the courts or law enforcement.

The effort to seat a grand jury is political, Chance said. Cann must face voters for the first time this year. He has his current job by appointment of former governor Bob Holden.

"I would hope that he would put the livelihood and the welfare of others above the political gain for himself," Chance said.

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