Attorney in courtroom bomb scare is exonerated
BERRYVILLE -- Berryville attorney Cindy Baker was found not guilty of criminal contempt of court on Friday, but Circuit Judge Alan D. Epley stated that it appears that she acted negligently in bringing what was a disabled firework into court during the trial of Mike Koster on Sept. 29.
Epley also suggested that Baker demonstrated a lack of candor with the court, possibly referring to either Baker's failure to let him know in advance that the device had been disabled, or that her responses to questions he directed to her, during testimony being given by Charles Scott Tucker during the earlier mistrial, were lacking.
The hearing, conducted in the context of Koster's case, lasted more than four hours, and the courtroom consistently held about 25 onlookers, primarily consisting of the area's legal and law enforcement community.
Under questioning by Baker's attorney, Little Rock lawyer Jeff Rozensweig, witnesses testified to the origin of the disabled firework, how it got to the courtroom, and its subsequent removal and "disruption."
Koster stated that he was asked by Baker two years ago, when he retained her to represent him, to provide the firework, which came from the same package as the one found in his shop in October 2003. He said he drained the firework of powder and replaced the fuse before turning it over to her.
Baker's testimony backed that story up, and she went on to state that she did not perceive that she violated the court's order or process in bringing the disabled device into the courtroom, that there was no intent on her part to detonate the device, that she was not trying to cause a mistrial, and that she had no intention of disturbing the peace.
An apparently well-respected legal scholar, John W. Hall Jr., of Little Rock, stated that if the device was not dangerous, it was his opinion that Baker could, and even should, bring it into the court room as exculpatory evidence, allowing that he might have tried to save the powder in a separate container.
Apparently, in Epley's estimation, the testimony of Berryville explosives expert Mike Zaloudek, who has extensive military experience with both chemical and nuclear explosive devices, carried a lot of weight.
Zaloudek criticized handling of the Sept. 29 incident, and differentiated between feeling the sound of an explosion and experiencing a shock wave from an explosion.
He verified that the device in question was manufactured as a Class C firework, which is commercially available to the public, and appears to have been an aerial display firework. He said Koster apparently removed the propellant fuse when he drained the firework, which would eliminate ignition of any other powder left.
In making his ruling, Epley stated that if Baker had Zaloudek's testimony at the Sept.. 29 trial prior to trying to introduce the device as evidence, Friday's hearing would probably never have had to have taken place.
Baker's hearing was preceded by two plea agreements.
Jeffery Phillip Miller, also known as Jeff Doss, 20, of Berryville, pleaded guilty to commercial burglary and theft of property, and admitted as true allegations in a petition for revocation of his sentence in a 2004 conviction of furnishing a deadly weapon to a minor.
The most recent case arose from tools taken from a North Springfield Street business, many of which were subsequently pawned.
Miller was placed on five years of state-supervised probation, and was ordered to pay $1,450 in costs, fines and fees, with victim restitution to be determined. He is to also perform 60 hours of community service.
On the revocation, he was given a 10-day suspended jail sentence, conditioned with payment of costs and fees.
Justin Isisa Campbell, 20, of Berryville pleaded guilty to second degree forgery of 36 checks totaling $1,416.81 and written in 2004 and early 2005.
Campbell was given a seven-day jail sentence, placed on two years of supervised probation, and ordered to perform 30 hours of community service. He is to also pay $1,350 in costs, fines and fees, along with victim restitution to be determined, but running less than $1,000.