Contempt of court hearing scheduled for attorney Baker

Thursday, October 6, 2005

BERRYVILLE -- While a state lab is determining exactly what type of explosive device Berryville attorney Cindy Baker brought to court last Thursday, a hearing has been ordered for 11 a.m., Oct. 17, to decide if she should be held in contempt of court.

Circuit Judge Alan D. Epley scheduled the hearing as he declared a mistrial in the case of Mike Koster, of Green Forest, who Baker represents, during court action Friday morning.

The mistrial follows the Sept. 29 evacuation of the courthouse, courthouse annex, state revenue office and Berryville Library after Baker attempted to introduce what she described as a legally obtainable firecracker similar to that which was allegedly found Koster's shop in October 2003, along with a small jar containing methamphetamine, a small amount of marijuana, related drug paraphernalia and various firearms.

Baker argued against the mistrial, calling the Sept. 29 seizure and destruction of the alleged firecracker was a "bad faith destruction of material evidence." She indicated that she could use any videotapes or photographs that might exist of the device to make her argument that the device exploded by the bomb technician in October 2003 in Green Forest was a relatively harmless.

Law enforcement witnesses had testified earlier that the impact of the October 2003 detonation could be felt as far as two blocks away.

The attempted introduction of the alleged firecracker resulted in a mandatory evacuation order issued by Springdale Police Department bomb technician Drew Deason via cell phone after being briefed by local law enforcement regarding the situation.

Members of the jury were able to observe the actions of law enforcement, most standing near the courthouse annex in Pioneer Park, as the scene was cordoned off. That situation, Epley said, resulted in jury members having information obtained outside the courtroom which could influence the verdict in Koster's trial.

Epley also noted that the attempted introduction of an explosive was done without permission or sufficient safeguards, and stated that no explosive device, "even a ladyfinger," would be allowed in his courtroom. "Anyone with good sense would know not to bring an explosive device into court without prior permission," he stated.

The judge also said that with the destruction of the alleged firecracker, there was no way to act on the allegations of Baker's motion, so he would treat her motion as one for dismissal and declare a mistrial.

Baker, having objected to the mistrial, asked to be allowed to depose her witnesses she still had scheduled, to allow her to include the information in an appeal of Epley's decision. Epley allowed that, contingent on the availability of Court Reporter Pat Hodges.

In setting the contempt hearing for Baker, Epley said that "in any event," her possible sentence would be no greater than six months in jail.

No date was set for re-trying Koster's case, due apparently to a full schedule on the court docket. Epley ordered that a copy of his calendar for the coming week be included in the file as evidence that the court "cannot move forward in a reasonable manner."

In setting the contempt of court hearing for Baker, Epley attempted to inform her of her Miranda rights, of which Baker said she was well aware.

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