Questions Arise Concerning Vehicular Homicide Case, Hearing on Motions Held
POMEROY, Ohio – A hearing was held concerning a motion to overturn the conviction of Richard Barnhart, Jr. on vehicular manslaughter and have a new trial.
Meigs County Common Pleas Judge I. Carson Crow heard arguments and testimony from several witnesses concerning the motions from the defense and prosecution. Representing the State of Ohio was Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney James K. Stanley while Bob Toy represented Barnhart. Barnhart appeared alongside of his attorney. Previously Barnhart was represented by Charles Knight during the trial and for the initial appeal filed with the court.
Judge Crow will be considering motions filed on both sides. The defense is seeking a new trial based on new witness information that was not available during the trial. The prosecution is asking for that motion to be dismissed.
Closing statements are to be filed with the court in a week’s time. No timeline was given for the court’s ruling on the motions.
The following is an account for of the hearing held April 2, 2018 and background on the case.
Background on the Case
The Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney had filed a response on an appeal motion that had been filed by the defense for a new trial for Richard Barnhart, Jr.
In a motion filed on March 19, 2018 by Prosecutor James K. Stanley, the circumstances and reasons for dismissal of the motion for a new trial were made clear. According to the dismissal motion, Warren Chase Payne claimed to have information regarding who was driving the night on Jan. 13, 2017 with Barnhart occurred.
Barnhart was convicted of vehicular manslaughter following a two-day trial for the incident on Jan. 13, 2017 in which the black 1998 Audi sedan driven by Barnhart and passenger Jesse T. Carr, 26, also of Pomeroy, were traveling on State Route 143 crashed. Carr died at the scene. According to testimony and evidence presented at the trial, Barnhart had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .269. The legal limit in Ohio is .08 BAC. Barnhart was convicted on five counts: one count of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, a felony of the first degree; one count of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, a felony of the second degree; Vehicular Manslaughter, a first degree misdemeanor; and two counts of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence, a felony of the fourth degree. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison by Judge I. Carson Crow in the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas.
Motions Filed in the Case
During the hearing, Toy was attempting to bring evidence forward from a possible witness that had seen both Barnhart and Jesse T. Carr, on the night of the fatal crash. The defense was trying to show that Carr was driving the vehicle and not Barnhart. Stanley and the state contend otherwise.
According to court documents and testimony during the hearing, Payne contacted defense counsel, Charles Knight, after the trial was over and Barnhart had been convicted. Payne claims to have called the Prosecutor’s Office, but left no message and did not speak with anyone concerning possible additional information on the the case. Payne did not contact law enforcement concerning the information that he claimed to have about the night in question which may have placed Carr in the driver’s seat and not Barnhart. Knight filed a motion for a new trial.
According to court documents filed by the prosecution, on March 16, 2018 Payne met with Trooper James D. Hannon for an interview at the Gallia-Meigs Ohio State Highway Patrol Post. Knight arrived “with the intention of being present for the interview,” according to the document. Due to the fact that Payne was not represented by Knight, Stanley instructed Trooper Hanson to tell Knight he could not be present for the interview. He did give an audio recorder to Payne which was allowed and used during the interview in addition to the recording law enforcement made.
Issues with the statements made in the affidavit prepared by defense counsel and the statements made during the interview quickly did not match, according to the motion. According to the document, “Mr. Payne stated that he informed defense counsel of the false statements and stated that defense counsel informed Mr. Payne that defense counsel would change the statements before filing the affidavit with this Court. Defense counsel had Mr. Payne sign the affidavit at that time anyway. Defense counsel then filed the affidavit with this Court being fully aware of the false statements.”
Toy had just filed further information with the court the day of the motion hearing. The evidence was discussed during the hearing and in witness testimony.
Opening arguments were given by Toy in which he stated there was a new timeline he was submitting to the court on the night in question along with text messages and a recording of a conversation between Payne and the defendant’s sister, Michelle Barnhart. Toy claimed that Payne had given testimony while being threatened and was intimidated during the interview at the Gallia-Meigs Ohio State Highway Patrol Post. He claimed that Payne could be sure of the date he saw Carr and Barnhart because that fateful day Payne had purchased a car.
Stanley stated in his opening argument that Payne met with Trooper Hannon at the Gallia-Meigs OSHP Post and that there were no threats being made nor was there any intimidation. He said that Payne left the post following the interview and then returned, changing his story that he had seen Carr and Barnhart on Jan. 12, 2017 and not on Jan. 13, 2017.
Hearing and Testimony
The first witness for the defense was Payne. Through questioning, Payne related contacting Knight and signing the affidavit. He stated under oath that he was a close friend of Carr’s but only knew Barnhart in passing, that he had just seen him around but knew of him since he was a kid. Toy asked Payne, “Are you making any of this up,” to which Payne answered, “Not that I am aware of, sir.”
In a lengthy testimony Payne related that his wife had been pregnant at the time on Jan. 13, 2017 and had cravings for Sobe and Doritos so he went to the 124 Mart to pick them up along with some cigarettes for himself. He testified that he knew what day it was because earlier in the day, around 2:30 p.m. he had purchased a used vehicle from Glockner’s in Jackson, Ohio. He stated that he stopped at his mother’s house in Albany, Ohio before going home. Once he was home, at some point, he went for the items his wife was craving. It was during that time that he reportedly saw Carr and Barnhart in the parking lot of Mt. Zion Church. Payne stated at one point it was at 9:30 p.m. then it was between 9:30-9:45 p.m. to possibly closer to 6 p.m. throughout his time on the witness stand. At one point, he said it was after dark as the time. The crash occurred at 10:08 p.m.
Stanley questioned Payne about when he connected the purchase of the car to the night in question to which Payne replied, “Honestly, today.”
Payne then said he wanted to amend his answer, “Sir, when did you and me meet up to talk” Payne asked from the stand of Toy’s investigator. He had meet with Payne and his wife this past weekend.
Payne said he didn’t remember until the car sale was pointed out to him. During the playing of a recorded interview with Trooper Hannon, Payne stated it had been on Jan. 12, 2017 that he saw Carr and Barnhart. Payne said he could have borrowed a car from a friend prior to buying the car, but said he did not on that night. Yet, when questioned by Stanley, Stanley asked, “Could it have been any other night you borrowed a vehicle,” and Payne replied, “correct.”
“I was not sure it was the 13th,” Payne said of the March 16, 2018 interview with Trooper Hannon and went on to say, “I can’t say 100 percent sure. Could’ve been slight chance of the 12th.”
Toy tried to clarify on redirect that he was not looking for Payne to agree with him, but to tell the truth. Payne stated again that Carr was driving when they left the church parking lot and not Barnhart.
During recross examination by Stanley, Payne said he was, “Ninety-nine percent sure it happened on the 13th,” but was only “Seventy-five percent sure on the time.”
Judge Crow then asked the witness a few questions. He went through the statements Payne was supposed to have made in the affidavit filed by Knight. Several statements Payne said he did not make or were not correct. Knight was supposed to have fixed them, according to Payne. Knight met Payne at the Hot Spot and had the affidavit already typed up and notarized, according to Payne.
Next to testify was Michelle Barnhart for the defense. She stated that the recording entered into evidence was the one she made of a conversation with her and Payne. She also testified that the text messages entered into evidence were those between Payne and herself. The content of those messages along with the recording or transcript of the recording were not discussed in open court. She did state she provided the information to Knight as well.
Trooper Hannon testified to interviewing Payne. Hannon serves in an investigator position with the OSHP. He does not wear a uniform for the position and part of his job is to investigate criminal activity at prisons involving inmates, staff or visitors. The recording of the interview was played. In the interview Hannon kept a fairly casual tone. At one point, Payne and Hannon laugh together about a misstep in speech Hannon makes. Hannon stated he did not believe that Payne was involved in the story of the night of the crash. On tape, Payne stated, “I’ve known Ricky (Barnhart) for years,” and at one point stated their fathers had been best friends.
In the recorded interview Payne stated the night of Jan. 13, 2017 he saw Barnhart in the driver’s seat of a black vehicle in the parking lot of Zion Church, leaning out of the vehicle. He stated that Barnhart was moved to the passenger seat by Carr and Barnhart. He stated Barnhart was so intoxicated that he was “drunk enough to where he was passing out.”
In the interview, Payne said he last saw them just before the crash between 9:55-10 p.m. At the time the turned to go their separate ways, Carr was driving. Payne said he didn’t find out until a week later that Carr had died in the wreck.
On the taped interview, Payne says he never wanted to testify and that after he left, Barnhart and Carr could have switched and Barnhart could have been driving. The inaccurate statements in the affidavit kept coming up as well in the recorded interview and during the hearing. “He was supposed to have fixed them,” Payne said of the errors in the affidavit referring to Knight.
Following the interview with Hannon, Payne left the OSHP Post and went to the car with his wife. He then returned a short time later and told Hannon under a second recording that there was no way he saw Barnhart and Carr on Jan. 13, 2018. He said it was Jan. 12, 2018 instead and that he had been mistaken.
Payne’s wife, Desiree, testified next that she went to the post with her husband the day of the interview on March 16, 2018. She said Knight was there as well. Knight did not go into the interview, but sat in the lobby with her. Upon her husband coming out of the interview, they both went to their car and Knight to his. She said her husband did not talk a lot to her about what happened during the interview but called his mother asking about the penalty for perjury. He smoked several cigarettes, seemed nervous and kept saying something about “five years” and “perjury” before going back into the patrol post. It was the second time that he was interviewed in which he changed statement on the date he saw Carr and Barnhart.
The hearing concluded about 4:30 p.m. Both attorneys are to submit their written closing arguments to the court with in five days. Judge Crow did not state when a decision would be made.
The Meigs Independent Press will continue to follow this story.
For information on the Barnhart trial click the links below.