DAG leaning against another retrial for former U.C. sheriff

Brad Hicks • Dec 17, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Although he still has a little under a month to make a definitive decision, District Attorney General Tony Clark said, at this point, he is leaning toward not retrying former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris on a theft-related charge.

Harris’ second trial on the charge of theft over $1,000 ended Friday with the same result as the first trial, which ended in early August. The jury that heard the retrial was unable to render a unanimous verdict, resulting in a hung jury. It was alleged that Harris wound up in possession of $4,500 in county funds for a pair of vehicles that were donated to the county.

Following the result of the retrial, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood gave Clark’s office until Jan. 15 to decide if it would try Harris for a third time on the charge. Clark said Monday that the reasons for his current leanings include the state presenting all of its evidence in the case, including testimony from additional witnesses who did not take the stand in the first trial. He also said getting a unanimous verdict without bringing in an outside jury or moving the trial out of Unicoi County would be difficult.

Clark further said he has a duty to the citizens of the county to not retry the charge “over and over” when a similar outcome is expected.

“We put on all the evidence we had both times, we got hung juries both times,” he said.

However, Clark said he still intends to speak with county representatives, as the county was the alleged victim in the case, and witnesses before making a firm decision.

“That’s a decision that I haven’t really sat down and talked with anybody about yet,” Clark said.

Harris still faces nine other felony charges following grand jury indictments in October 2011 and February, including seven counts of official misconduct, and one charge each of tampering with evidence and attempted aggravated assault. Although Clark said he is currently considering trying Harris on one of these other charges, he is unsure at this time which of the charges his office would prosecute next.

“I think we’ve got good evidence on all of them or we wouldn’t have taken them to the grand jury,” Clark said.

Clark said he intends to make Harris’ legal defense and the public aware of whether he will proceed with another retrial or pursue prosecution on another charge prior to the Jan. 15 deadline.

Should his office proceed with prosecuting another charge, Clark said Harris’ theft over $1,000 charge will either be dismissed outright or prosecution will be suspended. If the charge is dismissed with prejudice, it cannot be brought up again in the future, but if the charge is dismissed without prejudice, it can be tried again.

“I really feel the next case tried against Kent Harris will be one of the other charges,” Clark said.

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