Charges off after deaths of witnesses
WHEELING – Harrison County Circuit Judge John Lewis Marks Jr. on Wednesday dismissed criminal charges against Wheeling attorney Paul J. Harris because the state’s two key witnesses both died from an apparent heroin overdose.
Marks granted a motion filed last week by Assistant Harrison County Prosecutor Traci M. Cook to dismiss a May 17, four-count indictment charging Harris, 50, with a felony offense of conspiracy to commit threats in official and political matters and three misdemeanors, including conspiracy to commit witness intimidation, obstruction of a law enforcement officer and conspiracy to commit obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
Cook’s 20-page motion also called for dismissal of similar charges against Harris’ co-defendant, private investigator Franklin D. Streets Jr., 50, of Belington.
“The state asserts that it is without sufficient admissible evidence to proceed in the prosecution of the charges in the indictments following the death of two witnesses for the state, Danielle Wilson in September 2013, and Carl J. “C.J.” Wilson on Feb. 1, 2014,” the motion states.
Harris’s defense attorney, Robert McCoid of Wheeling, said his client is pleased to have the case behind him.
“While he is happy to move on, Mr. Harris regrets that the dismissal was caused by the death of the state’s witness, C.J. Wilson,” McCoid said. “It has been represented to us that Mr. Wilson died from a heroin overdose a couple of weeks ago, as did his wife, Danielle, in September. Mr. Harris regrets their deaths, but he also regrets he was not able to be vindicated on the merits of the case at trial because he believes that Mr. Wilson would have ultimately testified truthfully and thereby would have exonerated him.”
Harrison County Prosecutor Joe Shaffer said the death of the witnesses gave him no options other than to dismiss the charges. However, he may not be finished with Harris.
“This case is being handled like any other case, wherein a key witness dies and is unable to testify without the benefit of the defendant being able to cross examine the witness,” he said. “The rules of ethics … require that I as a prosecutor seek dismissal of the charges in such a situation.”
Shaffer said Wednesday he is considering seeking criminal contempt charges against Harris on allegations that Harris had attempted to contact the witnesses against him after the court, as a condition of bond, had ordered him to make no direct or indirect contact.
“It’s safe to say with certainty that this will happen,” he said.
The original charges against Harris arose out of the alleged interference with a witness set to testify against former Shinnston policeman Kevin B. Junkins Jr. in a separate felony case pending before Marks. Harris is representing Junkins, and Streets was hired as an investigator for Junkins.
Junkins is facing three counts of possession with the intent to deliver a controlled substance, embezzlement, burglary, conspiracy and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Cook’s motion states that Junkins, while a police officer with the Shinnston Police Department, removed certain controlled substances from the Shinnston Police Department’s evidence locker and delivered the same to Carl Wilson to sell. Cook contends Harris and Streets were involved in a scheme paying C.J. Wilson $1,200 to leave town to avoid being subpoenaed to Junkin’s trial by the state and to avoid testifying.
“Mr. Wilson advised he had been paid $1,200 by … Streets and a lawyer to leave town, but he only went to a hotel,” the motion states. “Wilson and his wife advised they were scared but Mr. Wilson agreed to give an audio and video recorded statement at the sheriff’s department.”