CHARLESTON — Each side in the federal trial of West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry has presented closing arguments, with prosecutors saying Loughry is corrupt and the justice’s defense saying he’s been misinterpreted by political schemers.
A jury of 10 women and two men will soon decide guilt or innocence in the politically-charged case of suspended West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, who faces 22 counts.
U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver expected to provide jury instructions this afternoon. Depending on how elaborate those instructions are, it’s not yet clear whether the jury will begin to deliberate today.
“The closing arguments, although a very important part of this case, are not evidence,” Copenhaver reminded jurors.
Federal prosecutor Greg McVey stated the federal government’s case this morning, starting with Loughry’s election to the highest court in West Virginia.
“With that power came an arrogance, came an unbridled sense of entitlement, the likes of which the court had never seen.”
He said that “entitled him to defraud others as he was cloaked in the power of his office.”
McVey, speaking to the jury from a podium with a microphone, said the justice spread a false narrative of events on the court, acted as a bully to court employees to serve his own interests, tattled to federal investigators to deflect attention from his own practices and lied to the FBI.
Using slides displayed on a courtroom screen, McVey proceeded from count to count, weaving together the evidence accumulated over a week of testimony.
“He was elected to be a public servant,” McVey said. “He did not do that. He became its master.”
He then told jurors, “This defendant is guilty of each and every count in this indictment, and we ask that you find him guilty.”
Loughry’s lawyer, John Carr, said the prosecution has failed over this past week to prove the allegations against Loughry.
Striding in front of the jury rather than standing at the podium, Carr said the burden is on the government to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It isn’t ‘more likely.’ It isn’t ‘maybe.’ It is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’” Carr said. “The evidence in this case is not sufficient of that burden.”
Carr also went through each of the allegations against Loughry, saying other witnesses who had taken the stand had either lied or misremembered circumstances.
He also questioned some of the concepts that have been brought up over and over in this trial — whether anyone had bothered to consider what a home office actually means or what actually constitutes personal travel.
And Carr questioned whether an antique “Cass Gilbert” desk Loughry is accused of taking to his own home actually has the value described by other witnesses.
“The state’s case rises and falls trying to convince you, the jury there is something wonderful about these desks, that they are state treasures,” Carr said.
“It’s the equivalent of John Brown’s hammer or Will Grier’s soon-to-be-awarded Heisman Trophy.”
As Loughry earlier testified when he took the stand in his own defense, Carr suggested that the justice’s travel in state vehicles always involved a work purpose such as speaking to school children, attending conferences or speaking with judicial officials in his own community.
Even trips to The Greenbrier for book signings were a form of court outreach as Loughry would speak with citizens about the court system, Carr said.
“It’s the government that must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he wanted to use the state vehicle for personal travel,” Carr said.
Carr concluded, “Is Justice Loughry guilty of these 22 federal crimes beyond a reasonable doubt? The evidence does not support that.”
Loughry originally faced 25 federal charges, but three were dismissed voluntarily by prosecutors before opening statements even began. Those charges had to do with an antique “Cass Gilbert” desk Loughry was accused of taking home from the Capitol, and a related obstruction charge.
The remaining charges against Loughry, the author of “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for Landslide: The Sordid and Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia,” accuse him of mail fraud, wire fraud, tampering with a witness and lying to federal agents.
Most of the counts allege that he used a state vehicle and state-issued gasoline card for personal travel. Two more are fraud counts that he drove the state vehicle to conferences but also accepted travel cost reimbursement.
One is a witness tampering count, alleging he tried to coach Supreme Court employee Kim Ellis into a statement about the cost of his office renovation, knowing a federal investigation was possible.
And two more counts have to do with the antique “Cass Gilbert” desk in Loughry’s home.
One alleges he made a false statement about the whereabouts of the desk to an FBI agent, and another alleges he instructed Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy to issue a false statement to media about a home office policy for justices.
Public controversy has surrounded Loughry for more than a year now as he faced allegation after allegation about the expensive remodeling of his office, his use of state vehicle for private travel and his moving an antique “Cass Gilbert” desk from the state Capitol to his home.
The scandals started with WCHS-TV reports about the office renovation. Loughry, in those television reports, initially blamed fired Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury.
Loughry went to federal investigators with his concerns, prompting them to dig into Supreme Court finances.
The trial has lasted more than a week already. A full day of jury selection was required last Tuesday to find 12 jurors plus two alternates who expressed an open mind, despite a year of media attention on Loughry.
Federal prosecutors called a range of witnesses — some to provide expertise on the travel records and cell tower data that composed the backbone of the case.
Others, like Ellis, Bundy and former Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin described not only the ins and outs of how the court functions, but also their interactions with Loughry.
Finally, the defense called Loughry himself, who wound up disputing almost everybody else’s testimony over the course of his own six hours on the witness stand.
Before the trial began and at each day’s conclusion, Judge Copenhaver has warned jurors to steer clear of both traditional and social media, where they might accidentally be exposed to information about Loughry.
After Loughry’s defense concluded closing arguments, federal prosecutors were allowed to offer a rebuttal.
Federal prosecutor Philip Wright, speaking to the jury one more time, said that Loughry’s defense boiled down to “a lot of people are lying about me, a lot of people misremember things about me and ‘I forgot.’”
“Prisons are full of people who exercised bad judgement,” Wright told jurors.
Of all the testimony that Loughry has refuted, Wright said, “You weigh the credibility and evaluate this — who has the greatest incentive at the witness stand to lie?”
Wright concluded by referring to the old saying that power corrupts.
“The defendant is a walking, talking example of that.”
He then cited a passage from Loughry’s own book that conveyed how essential it is for the public to have confidence in the judicial system.
“He betrayed his own words,” Wright said. “Find him guilty.”