By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
The defense and prosecution in the 1974 Windmill Park triple homicide trial of Eddie Jack Washington will have access to all prison records pertaining to a particular state’s witness.
In a hearing Tuesday morning, Marion Circuit Judge Michael Aloi granted the motion of defense attorney Neal Jay Hamilton for access to all prison records of John Russell Ford.
Washington is one of two men charged with the 1974 execution-style slayings of three Fairmont residents. Phillip Reese Bush, serving two life sentences at Mount Olive Correctional Complex, is the second.
Ford had served time at Huttonsville Correctional Center and later Moundsville Penitentiary on unrelated charges.
He allegedly was with Washington and Bush on Aug. 2, 1974, when Wanda and Junior Phillips and Billy Ray Cobb were murdered at Conley Farms. Their bodies were taken to Windmill Park, where they were found early that morning.
Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick N. Wilson did not object to the motion but did ask Aloi to review the records in camera, or in private, because they might contain sensitive information, such as psychological or drug use issues, about Ford.
“Then you can make the determination what should be given out. All the records are not in one central file. They’re in different locations,” he said. “We see that the records are critical to show when the witness was incarcerated.”
He added the state would want to know “more detailed information, what will be used specifically.”
“It’s not necessary for the court to have those records kept in camera,” Hamilton said. “But if that is the position of the court, we’d rather have that than no records at all.”
Rule 16 of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure guarantees defendants be permitted to “inspect and copy or photograph” items such as papers, documents and other “tangible objects” that are in the possession of the state and are material to the preparation of defense, will be used by the state as evidence or obtained from or belong to the defendant.
Defendants also have the right to inspect, copy or photograph results of physical or mental examinations and scientific tests or examinations.
Hamilton applied the rule to a two-page letter Ford allegedly had handwritten to Detective Eddie DeVito of the Fairmont Police Department. The letter may have been written on stationery marked from Huttonsville Correctional Center. He had addressed this letter in a suppression hearing in August.
“I’d asked Detective (Douglas) Yost if this was a conflict in statement. It addresses a time when Ford was in jail. He discusses (with other people) information on the stabbings at the fairgrounds. Mr. Yost answered that he didn’t know, that it could be a whole different issue.
“That’s critical to this defense to point out the timelines when Ford was at Huttonsville ... for his knowledge or recollection of fact to that point in time.
“That’s why we’re asking for the state to supply booking records, examinations and tests. We understand that there may be records of psychological information.”
Aloi granted the motion with the restriction that the documents be provided in camera.
“I’m particularly concerned about mental health records,” he said. “There may very well be records that may provide information you should have access to, such as cross-examinations, having to deal with Ford’s memory or lack of memory ... things like that I think are appropriate.
“However, there may be other health-sensitive issues that are not relevant to the case at all. But I won’t know that until I see that information.
“With that in mind, information will be provided directly to the court, the court will review it and the court will share with you all the information that’s appropriate.
“I will also proffer what I’ve not given you and the reason why it wasn’t, and you may follow on that.”
He then cautioned the attorneys about this information.
“Just because I share information with you, just like with all discovery, doesn’t mean I have made a threshold decision to use it. I reserve the right to make further rulings.”
Washington and Bush will both go on trial separately but at the same time in November.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.