HAZARD — Jurors heard opening arguments in the criminal case against Perry County Clerk Haven King on Monday. King is accused of harassing and abusing his power as county clerk in an alleged incident that involved a Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC) student in April of last year.
Jury selection took up most of Monday morning. 14 jurors were selected after Judge Allison C. Wells, Commonwealth Attorney John Hansen and King’s Attorney James R. Hampton asked a set of lengthily questions to make sure that jurors were fair and unbiased in the case.
After jurors were selected, they heard opening arguments from the prosecution and the defense.
Hansen went first to present the prosecution’s argument. He told the jurors that when King pulled in front of Kalie Bentley, Bentley honked her horn, flipped him off and went on her way. This is when, prosecutors say, King followed her from Jamestown to HCTC for more than 20 miles and that at times speeds reached 66-70 MPH.
The prosecution also claims that at times King was bumper to bumper with Bentley.
“What purpose did he (King) have? There is no lawful reason,” Hansen asked the jurors.
Hansen told the jurors that if King thought it was illegal for a non-handicapped person to drive a vehicle with handicapped license plates, he did not stop at Kentucky State Police Post 13 nor did he stop at the Hazard Police Department or the Perry County Sheriff’s Department to inform them of the alleged crime.
Prosecutors said the reason King did not inform or call the police was because he was angry at Bentley for flipping him off and he wanted to follow her himself to get revenge.
The prosecution explained that King didn’t even drop off an employee of his, Monique Combs, because of his anger towards Bentley.
Prosecutors pointed out that Bentley parked in a non-handicapped parking spot when she arrived at HCTC. When King pulled in sideways behind Bentley, the prosecution said Bentley was scared to death because she could not move forward because of an embankment and could not go in reverse because of King’s vehicle.
“She did not know what was going to happen,” said Hansen.
Upon reaching the driver’s side window, the prosecution said King asked if Bentley was Ershel Thornsberry and she told him no. The exchange then lead to King telling Bentley that she could not drive the vehicle because Thornsberry was not present in the vehicle and he then asks her address. She tells him that she is uncomfortable sharing that information and he informs her that he had already ran her plates.
“He overstepped his boundaries,” said Hansen.
Prosecutors say the handicapped license plate was issued in Knott County and that King had no lawful purpose for running the plates.
The prosecution said King should be held accountable for his actions and that no one is above the law, even elected officials.
Hansen said that sometimes, apologizes are not enough.
He urged to jurors to return a guilty verdict on all charges.
The Defense took the stand next, with Hampton representing King in the case.
Hampton told the jurors that the opening arguments are not evidence and to disregard the indictments during the trial. He urged the jurors to listen to both stories and then decide what is more believable.
The defense explained some of the duties county clerks have, such as figuring out where each citizen votes.
“Why am I telling you this?,” asked Hampton.
Hampton said it was this reason of figuring out where citizens vote that King was in Knott County at the time. On April 27, 2015, Combs went with him, because he was also training her. They went to places in both Knott and Perry Counties to make sure each voter’s registration cards went to the right county clerk office.
This was the reason King was in Jamestown during the incident. Road construction was taking place during the time the incident took place and that King had accidentally pulled out in front of Bentley because of this reason.
Hampton said King wasn’t the one who saw Bentley flipping him off, but it was Combs who witnessed it.
The defense said when King noticed that Bentley was driving a Veterans handicapped license plate, that it irritated him because of the work he does with veterans.
The defense said King did call his office to check the license plates number.
The defense also says King did not ride Bentley’s bumper and that Combs will testify that Bentley flipped him off.
Hampton said Combs would have told King to pullover if he was speeding so she could drive.
Once Bentley reached HCTC’s parking lot, Hampton said that one of the videos will show that King did not aggressively pull into HCTC and the defense says the reason King pulled behind Bentley was so he could tell her that she was not allowed to drive the vehicle.
“He made a mistake,” said Hampton of King telling Bentley she could not drive the car.
The defense said King did not intend to block Bentley in and that he only wanted to tell her she was not allowed to drive the car.
Hampton also said that King did not intend to intimidate or scare Bentley.
Hampton said once the confrontation was over, King got into his car and left. He then called another county clerk and asked them if it was illegal for a person to drive a car with handicapped license plates if the person who it was issued to was not in the car.
When the other county clerk told King it was not illegal, the defense said that King realized he made a mistake.
The defense said when King got to his office, he received a call from Thornsberry about the incident. The defense said King wanted to apologize to Bentley for his actions.
Hampton said the next thing King knew was the video Bentley posted on Facebook had gone viral and then the Perry County Grand Jury handed down a 7 count indictment on him.
Hampton said his client denies all charges against him and that he was sorry and embarrassed about what happened.
Hampton urged the jurors to listen to the evidence and base their decision on the evidence alone.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. The jurors will hear evidence from both sides.
TJ Caudill can be reached at 606-629-3245 or on Twitter @TJHazardHerald.