Beating case hits circuit court

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Petersburg man - accused of beating a Lewisburg man who suffered facial cuts that needed 18 stitches - is being arraigned Wednesday in circuit court, although city court testimony implicates others.

Perjury warrants appeared to be a possible consequence as a result of conflicts between court testimony and police reports, according to an audio recording of a preliminary hearing in Lewisburg City Court.

Billy Jack Knight, 29, and Phillip J. Venable, 23, of Jackson Avenue, were indicted on charges that they severely beat Danny J. King, 20, of Freeman Drive, late on the Saturday night of Aug. 15 in the Jackson Trailer Park, according to public records.

Knight's case was sent to the grand jury after a preliminary hearing conducted by Lewisburg City Court Judge Roger Brandon on Oct. 26. Subsequently, Venable was arrested in the case. Venable waived his right to a city sessions court hearing. Knight and Venable were indicted Nov. 18 by the grand jury on aggravated assault charges.

Recorded testimony at the preliminary hearing provided the judge with probable cause to believe there was a crime and that Knight could be the culprit, but others might be involved in the attack that left King with two black eyes, a concussion, and facial cuts needing 18 stitches.

Review of the recording indicates the following chain of events.

There were at least four people standing around at the trailer park that night when King walked up to the group and asked for a cigarette, including: Knight; his girlfriend Miriam Sweeney; Roy Wilson; and Wilson's son, Deamicos Wilson. Venable drove up shortly thereafter.

When King didn't get a cigarette he walked away, but returned a few minutes later, challenging an insult he thought he had heard. Fearing for his girlfriend's safety, Knight took King to the ground in a headlock. Roy Wilson pulled King away, falling over in the process, and told King to leave.

Lewisburg Police Officer Clyde Ragsdale took statements from witnesses at the trailer park after consulting with King at the emergency room and being told the location of the beating. Detective Santiago McKlean was assigned to the case, and interviewed all the same witnesses, taking additional statements.

Police report that no one admitted hitting King, though King testified "two white males" assaulted him at the trailer park. King admits his eyesight is "bad" and he could not see their faces, only the fists punching him.

Lewisburg City Attorney Bill Haywood asked McKlean if anyone said they saw Knight hit King with his fist and McKlean replied, "No sir."

"Did anyone say they saw Phillip Venable hit D. J. King with his fist?" Haywood asked. "No sir," McKlean answered again.

"Why does nobody want to say?" Haywood asked McKlean who replied, "I believe they are just trying to cover somebody."

Knight's attorney, David McKenzie, asked, "Do any of the statements written before you took over say anything about Knight hitting King?"

Again, the detective replied, "No sir."

Further questioning revealed that the detective decided to arrest Knight "based on the investigation" he performed, not on the witnesses' statements that he collected.

"Four or five people say he didn't do it," McKenzie exclaimed. "Isn't Phillip Venable the man you're supposed to be after?"

McKlean stuck to his assertion that Knight was the guilty party, but three days later he swore out a warrant on Venable, writing that witnesses saw Venable strike King twice.

Venable was arrested on Nov. 2. Represented by the Public Defender's Office, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing and his case was bound over to the grand jury.

Judge Brandon seemed annoyed by what he heard from the witness stand on Oct. 26 and that's substantiated by contradictions revealed by questioning.

Deamicos Wilson contradicted his written statement and said he saw Venable "do the hitting," while Roy Wilson said he did not see Venable do anything.

"I've had nothing but lies on that witness stand," Brandon exclaimed. "Detective Santiago and myself may seek perjury warrants on all of them - we'll shake out the proof."

"I can state with certainty the truth didn't come out here," agreed Haywood.

McKenzie asked for his client's case to be dismissed, but Brandon refused, saying, "I'm binding him over. The truth will come out or there will be some people in trouble. Detective Santiago is doing his job... If the Marshall County grand jury wants to investigate it, they may find some cover-ups and some conspiracy here."

McKenzie claims "four untainted statements" say his client is innocent.

"Go after the person that I think everybody in this room realizes has committed this crime, which is Phillip Venable," McKenzie said.

McKenzie complemented Ragsdale's police work, but criticized McKlean's, accusing the detective of "forging statements" and "putting words in people's mouths."

"You want to pin point this guy and you forget about Phillip Venable. That's not only bad police work, that's messing with people's lives... We're about to waste Circuit Court's time on this case and they got nothing," McKenzie concluded.