Written by Peter Vieth | Stung by a federal judge’s finding of prosecutorial misconduct, government lawyers say they do not plan to put an alleged pill pusher on trial a second time.
U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon of Lynchburg last week ordered a new trial in the case of Les Burns after concluding the government had improperly concealed the true nature of a detective’s misconduct in an investigation of drug trafficking.
In a conference call Wednesday, U.S. attorney John P. Fishwick Jr. and an assistant told the judge they had recommended that the government not appeal that ruling. They also said they expected to ask the judge for permission to dismiss the charges against Burns “in the interest of justice.”
“U.S. Attorney Fishwick has decided, based on the court’s decision and his understanding of the case, that it is in the best interest of justice to dismiss the case,” a spokesperson said.
“We certainly don’t oppose the motion,” said Burns’ lawyer, Paul G. Beers.
At Beers’ request, and without opposition by the prosecutors, Moon said he would order Burns be released on $5,000 unsecured bond.
“I’m hoping he’ll be out by Friday,” Beers said afterward.
Burns had been charged in an investigation of trafficking in prescription pain killers centered in Bedford County. The case was clouded by the misbehavior of a detective who elicited a confession from Burns.
Despite Moon’s order to disclose details of the detective’s sexual advances to a potential witness, the government provided only a sanitized version, omitting crucial details that tended to undermine the cop’s credibility.
The detective testified without impeachment at trial, and Burns was sentenced to 136 months. He has been behind bars for three and a half years now, Beers said.
When Moon learned of the government’s “soft-peddling” of the detective’s crude behavior, he not only ordered a new trial, but also directed the government to remove a key prosecutor from the case. His ruling came July 14.
The U.S. attorney’s office confirmed the next day that the prosecutor, Ashley B. Neese, was taken off the case.
At the July 20 conference call, prosecutors said their request to forgo an appeal was still under review at the Justice Department but they wanted, as a courtesy, to disclose their intention not to pursue the case further.
“We have asked for that review to be expedited,” the spokesperson said afterwards.
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