Written by Jeff Sturgeon | A Bedford County man whose drug conviction and prison term were overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct will go free.
Les Christopher Burns, who has been in prison for more than three years, could be free by the weekend, his attorney said Wednesday.
Burns was 31 and living in Thaxton when he was indicted in 2013 as a result of Operation Pain Train, a large takedown of prescription pill violators. Convicted by a jury in 2014 of dealing drugs, he was sentenced to 11 years and four months. He went to prison based in part on the testimony of Christopher Lee Cook, a Bedford County sheriff’s deputy who had misconduct on his record.
But only some people had that record.
A judge who took up an appeal by Burns found that Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Neese hid from Burns’ trial lawyer information that could have been used to discredit Cook, such as a complaint that Cook had pursued a female grand jury witness in a sexual advance while drinking alcohol on duty.
In an extraordinary legal decision July 14, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon overturned Burns’ conviction and ordered a new trial with a different prosecutor. Moon faulted prosecutors for “misrepresentations, omissions, and evasions.” Court protocol guarantees criminal defendants access to information favorable to their side and requires prosecutors to volunteer it.
The office of U.S. Attorney John Fishwick immediately said it would retry Burns. It had the choice to either try the case a second time without the deputy’s testimony or to use the deputy again, this time with full disclosure of the misconduct for use in a possible attack against his credibility and integrity. Cook still works as a deputy sheriff in Bedford County.
On Wednesday, Fishwick’s office told Moon that prosecutors plan to drop the case. Ending the case altogether “is in the best interest of justice,” office spokesman Brian McGinn said by email. A final decision won’t be announced until after Fishwick’s office consults further with justice officials in Washington.
Burns’s attorney for the appeal, Paul Beers, said he agreed that the case should come to an end without a retrial. In anticipation of a dismissal, Beers asked Moon to release Burns. Moon agreed.
The paperwork to free Burns, who no longer has a drug conviction on his record, was working its way to the Western Virginia Regional Jail, where he’s been waiting.
“I certainly hope he’ll be able to be free by the weekend,” Beers said.
Roanoke Times: Bedford County