Police officers enter pleas of 'not guilty' at hearing

Thursday, March 21, 2002

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- In a brief court appearance Tuesday morning, Dexter's police chief and one of its sergeants entered not guilty pleas on a hindering prosecution charge.

Police Chief Ken Rinehart and Sgt. Sammy Stone were indicted by a Stoddard County grand jury in January on a Class D felony of hindering prosecution.

The indictments stem from an incident involving former Dexter officer Robert Kennedy who was arrested in July 2001 on charges of improper sexual activities. He later pleaded guilty to three felonies and was placed on five years' supervised probation. During Tuesday's proceedings, Rinehart and Stone appeared before Associate Circuit Judge John Beaton of Dunklin County for arraignment.

Beaton was hearing the cases after Rinehart and Stone's attorneys took steps to challenge the grand jury indictment against the officers during their initial appearance in Circuit Court Division I Feb. 6. Two notices were filed indicating the defense's intent to take depositions from and to call as witnesses Presiding Circuit Judge Stephen Sharp and Prosecuting Attorney Briney Welborn.

A third notice indicated the intent of the defense to utilize the prosecuting attorney as a witness for the defense in the trial, if any is necessary.

As a result of those notices, Sharp recused himself from the case. The Missouri Supreme Court assigned Beaton to hear the case.

"We're here for arraignment on two cases," Beaton said as he convened court. "In no particular order, we'll take Mr. Rinehart's case first." Beaton asked Rinehart's attorney, Jim Spain of Poplar Bluff, if his client wished to be formally arraigned on the charge.

"We waive formal arraignment and reading of the indictment," Spain said. "We have been furnished a copy of the indictment and are aware of the charge." When Rinehart was asked what his plea was, he said, "your honor, I plead not guilty."

After some discussion, Beaton told Rinehart he was free to go, but he was "to return on April 23 at 9 a.m., unless other action is taken before that time."

When Stone's case was called, he too waived formal arraignment.

"Your honor, I am not guilty," Stone said in response to Beaton's inquiry as to his plea.

Beaton told Stone he too was to appear on April 23 at which time the case will either be set for trial or "will take up other matters." Both Stone and Rinehart, who have been assigned by the Dexter Board of Aldermen to duties outside the Police Department, remain free on bond.

After talking with the media, Spain said, the most important thing that happened Tuesday was that they "both stood up and said they were not guilty." Between now and April 23, Spain said, the "lawyers will be talking. We're going to get together and decide what sort of action we're going to take, but a plea of guilty is not one of them; it's not even slightly being considered.

No plans to plea bargain

"We're not going to plea bargain. It's not in order. We're not looking for anything other than outright vindication (of the charges)." When asked about the previous motions filed by the defense, Spain said, he was "not prepared to discuss our strategy at this time. It would be premature.

"As a matter of fact, I'm not sure we've settled on our strategy." Spain said the defense was keeping all of its options open, which is why it filed the original motions.

"One of the things, if you've read the indictments, (is that) the only person who could possibly have any relevant information in this case is Mr. Kennedy," Spain said. "There are a lot of things to be done between now and trial and one of the things to be done, of course, is we're going to ask the prosecuting attorney 'In what way were you hindered?'" Spain said the defense is going to ask "anybody else that is involved in this 'What way were you hindered in prosecution?'" Spain said they were going to ask those types of questions. "We're going to get the answers to those questions (and) by the that time we will be ready for trial," he said.

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