WILLIAMSON – Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks probably feels like he has been swimming in quicksand as of late with the recent indictment of Circuit Judge Mike Thornsbury.
Sparks, who has been the lead prosecuting attorney for eight years, has been under fire the last few days from both sides of the fence.
Sparks’ name was mentioned in the 18-page indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston.
“I have supported the federal investigation and will continue to do so, however, because I’m a witness, I would refer any questions to the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Sparks said of the case and allegations against Thornsbury.
When asked about whether he knew that it was illegal for Mingo County Homeland Security Director Jarrod Fletcher to serve as foreperson of the grand jury, Sparks replied, “That is the position of the federal prosecution. The Judge impanels the grand jury. Our office has nothing to do with the impaneling process. Our first contact with the grand jury is when we walk in and present our first case.”
Fletcher had been appointed to the position by his friend and business partner Judge Thornsbury.
“I was unaware – as were most people – as to the financial relationship until the summer of 2009,” Sparks said. “He did not participate in the September term of the grand jury.”
“This is a small county. You will run into someone that you know that may know someone who may be involved in cases,” Sparks added. “The formalities of a grand jury are not quite as stringent as those of a petit jury.”
Sparks said that an indictment requires 12 votes. The grand jury process has 16 members. “Even if there is one person disqualified, as long as you have 12 votes – an indictment would not be reversed for one disqualification,” said Sparks. “Of course, if there is any credible evidence brought forward that there was any fraud or misconduct – in any case – we will review the case and do what is appropriate.”
“The important thing here is that I don’t believe any of those cases were tried,” Sparks said. ”In most of those cases in the January and April terms of 2009 resulted in guilty pleas.”
Each of those cases either had audio and/or video surveillance as well as a confession by the defendant to the police officer before indictment or they entered a guilty plea agreement. “I don’t anticipate any of those convictions will be vacated,” Sparks stressed.
Sparks said he could not comment on the Woodruff case, the couple that is mentioned in the indictment against Judge Thornsbury. The indictment named several people who were allegedly involved with a conspiracy to plant drugs on Robert Woodruff, the husband of the former secretary of Thornsbury.
As for adding a second circuit judge for Mingo County, Sparks said he would support it. “Mingo County is the only single judge - single county circuit in the state of West Virginia.” In comparison, neighboring Logan, Wayne and McDowell county have two circuit judges. McDowell County has a smaller population than that of Mingo County.
“Considering that our surrounding counties have two judges, I would support a second judgeship,” said Sparks. “I would support any efforts from Senator (Truman) Chafin, Senator (Art) Kirkendoll, Delegate (H. K.) White and Delegate (Justin) Marcum to obtain a second judge for this county.”
“All Mingo County officials and Mingo County courthouse employees should not be placed in the same lump of clay,” Sparks added. “There are honest and hard-working people with the spirit to serve to our citizens.”