Archive for Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Expert to examine document

Judge grants motion to look at inmate document

April 25, 2001

A judge granted a motion last Friday allowing a handwriting expert to examine a document that could lead to a new trial for former Basehor mayor John Pfannenstiel.

Pfannenstiel, 39, was convicted March 23 on three counts of sexual misconduct with inmates while he was a guard last year at the Lansing Correctional Facility. The jury acquitted him on one count of smuggling contraband into the prison.

The document alleges that Charles "Opie" Jones, a key state witness in Pfannenstiel's trial, recanted previous statements he made to prison investigators. He withdrew his statements during an interview with Pfannenstiel's defense attorney, Terry Lober, last October.

During the interview, Jones signed a written statement that said he made up the accusation that he and Pfannenstiel had sexual contact, according to the motion.

Last Friday, Leavenworth County Judge Frederick Stewart ordered the county attorney's office to release the signed statement into the custody of independent forensic examiner Richard Fahy. Fahy will compare signature examples from Jones and test those against the signature on the document.

According to Lober, the examination will be completed before the court reconvenes on May 11.

Fahy has more than 30 years of forensic examination experience and was a former examiner with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations. He has also worked with the Johnson County Sheriff's Department and has been an expert witness for the prosecution in several cases, Lober said.

After hearing the results of the examination, Judge Stewart will make a decision as to whether it merits a new trial for Pfannenstiel. Even if the results come back in favor of the defense, a retrial is no guarantee, Lober said.

"Nothing is automatic," Lober said. "The judge would have to determine if the jury would have made a different verdict had they been able to see the document during the trial. The judge has the power to grant a new trial, but it is a discretionary call."

If Stewart rules against Pfannenstiel, the defense would then take its case to the Kansas Court of Appeals, Lober said.

The document in question has been in the possession of the county attorney's office since March 21 and has been examined by analysts from the KBI already, Leavenworth County Assistant District Attorney Roger Marrs said. According to Lober the results of that examination were inconclusive.

Lober tried to introduce the document into evidence during the trial, but because Jones denied he signed it, the document was ruled inadmissible by Stewart.

According to Marrs, Lober was afforded the opportunity to testify that he witnessed Jones sign the document, but declined to take the stand. Lober said he decided not to take the stand because of ethics.

"It is unethical for an attorney representing a client to testify on his behalf in that trial," Lober said. "The judge may have permitted me to testify, but it would have been outside the presence of the jury so what good would that have done?

"I am not willing to go that close to the ethical rule. The ethical rule says that lawyer's should not testify in cases that they are representing a client in because it puts the lawyer's credibility in question."

Lober admitted that the examination of the document was a step in the right direction for a new trial for Pfannenstiel, but by no means was the fight over.

"I think it just means the judge realizes the inherent importance of the document," Lober said.

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