Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2001

Pfannenstiel trial hinges on tapes

Defense questions the quality and veracity of tape allegedly containing sexual encounter

March 22, 2001

Audio tapes recording the alleged sexual activity and related conversations between John Pfannenstiel and a Lansing inmate under his guard have become one of the main focuses of Pfannenstiel's trial this week.

The focus is not so much what is said on the tapes, but the poor quality of the recordings making it difficult to determine what is being said.

Pfannenstiel is charged with three counts of sexual misconduct with inmates and one count of smuggling contraband a pair of blue jeans and a watch battery into the Lansing Correctional Facility where he worked as a guard for 15 years.

The trial comes just weeks before the April general elections, where Pfannenstiel is seeking re-election as Basehor's mayor.

Leavenworth County Assistant District Attorney Roger Marrs said in his opening statement Monday, the investigation into Pfannenstiel's alleged activity stemmed from a statement given by Lansing inmate Charles "Opie" Jones, a member of Pfannenstiel's work crew.

Jones is serving two 25-year sentences on robbery, kidnapping and rape.

Jones testified that Pfannenstiel had performed oral sex on him and fondled him on different occasions for several months in 2000.

However, the first accusation brought against Pfannenstiel was made by Tracy Wright, an inmate at Lansing in the protective custody unit, during an investigation into another correctional officer.

Wright accused Pfannenstiel of performing oral sex with Jones and at least two other inmates, Kenneth Frost and Trenton Potter, while they were on the crew Pfannenstiel supervised. Both Frost and Potter are expected to testify this week.

Investigators didn't attempt to record the activity until Jones came forward, according to testimony.

Jones told Wright to go forward with what he knew, after both inmates had failed a drug screening, which resulted in Wright losing his chance at parole and Jones his visitation privileges, Jones testified.

Cocaine and marijuana were found in Jones's urine. It was not revealed in court what drugs had been found in Wright's system. However, Jones said, the two were not charged for the offenses.

Jones went to Lansing's investigations department Aug. 28. After Jones made a statement to investigators, attempts were made to record Pfannenstiel's activities at the prison.

Jones testified the alleged activity occurred in the basement of the prison. Jones said he wore a tape recorder hidden in his waistband during a conversation he and Pfannenstiel had on the afternoon of Sept. 5., the same day Pfannenstiel was arrested.

William Andrews, a forensic audio expert, testified Tuesday about the examination he performed on tapes made in the investigation.

Andrews filtered out background noise from the tapes and said one of the voices heard on one tape made by Jones belonged to Pfannenstiel.

Jurors only heard fragments of the unaltered version of the tape Tuesday and are expected to listen to the tapes in their entirety this week.

The court had decided not play the tapes publicly because both were of poor quality and hard to hear. News reporters were allowed to listen to the tapes Wednesday and view transcripts of the recordings.

The first recording is of Pfannenstiel and Jones. Pfannenstiel is reportedly performing oral sex on Jones. The second tape is of a conversation between Jones and Pfannenstiel Sept. 5. Pfannenstiel is apparently asking Jones why inmates from his detail are being brought in for questioning. Jones tells Pfannenstiel not to be so "paranoid."

Relying on the transcripts, it would appear activity of a sexual nature occurred, however, jurors will have to decide if the tapes, which are hard to hear, with some words unintelligible, match the transcripts, said Terry Lober, Pfannenstiel's attorney.

Lober said the case against Pfannenstiel stems from statements made by three convicted felons and little more.

"This case is about the testimony of three inmates against a correctional officer," Lober said. "Most, if not every bit of that testimony, is contested and all of it is uncorroborated."

Lober said the case against the embattled mayor is a conspiracy that was concocted by three inmates looking for a big payday.

"Those inmates entered into an understanding or conspiracy to sacrifice the reputation and criminal record of a otherwise up-standing citizen in order to sue him for money," Lober said. "The plan is to get him convicted, get him discredited and then sue him."

Lober suggested charges were dropped against Jones in exchange for his testimony about Pfannenstiel.

During cross-examination, Lober pointed out the lack of eyewitness testimony in the prosecution's case and said the defense will call three inmates who will testify that Jones, Frost and Potter are lying about their relationship with Pfannenstiel.

Roger Bonner, chief investigator for the Lansing Correctional Facility, testified Tuesday morning that Pfannenstiel gave Jones a watch battery and allowed him to keep a pair of unauthorized blue jeans.

Bonner also testified about the tape recording. He said both tapes are hard to hear and are poor in quality. The second tape worse than the first.

Bonner did not say whether investigators ever confronted Pfannenstiel with the information they had received.

At no point during the alleged encounters did anyone besides the three inmates accusing Pfannenstiel, see any misconduct by Pfannenstiel, Bonner said.

Bonner also testified about how Jones will not be prosecuted for the drug offenses.

When Jones was asked by Lober about specific times and dates the offenses occurred, Jones said he didn't keep track of time in prison.

Lober then asked him why it was so important for him to obtain a watch battery from Pfannenstiel.

Lober contends that Jones received the contraband material through other means the watch battery from another inmate and the jeans from the recycling center at the prison, where Jones worked.

The trial is expected to last through the rest of the week. It could be Friday or even next week before the jury of 10 men and 2 women start deliberations.

The Basehor Sentinel Web site, www.basehorinfo.com, will have updated stories on the trial, including when a verdict is announced.

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