A Corbin man charged with allegedly trying to hire a hit man through an Internet message board to kill someone nearly three years ago, and who allegedly tried to intimidate a former prosecutor in his case, has now had all felony charges against him dismissed.
During a brief hearing at last Thursday in Whitley Circuit Court, Special Judge Samuel Todd Spalding agreed to dismiss a 2013 criminal solicitation to commit murder charge against Tristan Hall and a 2015 charge of retaliating against a participant in the legal process.
Special prosecutor Jackie Steele filed motions Thursday morning to dismiss the charges in both cases.
“In preparation for trial, it became readily apparent to us that we were going to have problems producing the evidence to seek a successful conviction,” Steele said during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “There became issues of not only testimony and getting witnesses here from California and other places but also some testimony had changed from other witnesses that had given statements previously in the case.”
Hall, 32, spoke about the case this week and said that he always felt confident the felony charges against him would be resolved in his favor, and said he’s working hard now to get the remaining misdemeanor charges dismissed as well. He added that while he may have prevailed in court, the ordeal has ruinous for his personal life and difficult on his family.
“I’m happy, but you don’t recover from the amount of damage that was done to me,” Hall said. “You pray to God when you apply for a job or anything that people don’t Google your name because that is going to kill your chances. In this digital era, you don’t recover.”
Hall has regularly denied any wrongdoing in any of the cases against him and his lawyers have vigorously defended him against the charges.
“Tristan Hall is pleased. The record in this case speaks for itself and the issues that have been addressed over the last three years. Today put an end to it and we are pleased,” said Herbert Moncier, the lead attorney in Hall’s cases.
Hall was charged with criminal solicitation to commit murder in connection with a Jan. 10, 2013 incident where he allegedly advertised on the popular website Topix that he would pay someone $5,000 cash for the murder of Melissa Jones Davis and the concealment of her body.
On March 2, 2015, Hall was indicted for retaliating against a participant in the legal process. In June 2014, Hall allegedly made threats to Allen Trimble, who was prosecuting him for criminal solicitation to commit murder. Trimble recused as prosecutor in that case. Prosecutors said Hall made a series of threatening phone calls to Trimble’s office. But when recordings of the calls surfaced, all of the calls in question were actually made by his then-girlfriend, Angela Reeves. Reeves was initially charged along with Hall, but officials decided to focus on him for a conviction in the case and planned to use her as one of the main witnesses.
In any event, Hall’s defense attorneys claimed none of the calls contained threats or attempts to intimidate.
Hall said it was infuriating that Trimble and Bird told television news crews that he made the calls, and accuses both of misleading a local grand jury in order to obtain an indictment in the case.
Thursday’s dismissals came nearly three months after Steele’s office agreed to dismiss an attempt to commit insurance fraud case against Hall.
Previous case dismissed
A grand jury indictment accused Hall of filing a fraudulent claim in 2014 with the insurer of a fur coat he had given to his former girlfriend, Angela Reeves. The coat was lost, but Hall said it was later found before the claim was processed. The insurer never paid him anything.
During a hearing in November, Brandon Jones, another special prosecutor in the case, said prosecutors planned to drop the case because he was notified through a “third party” that Reeves had continued to try to contact Hall despite being told not to do so.
“It was an admonishment we had placed on her not to do,” Jones said.
“It basically causes the Commonwealth to have serious reservations regarding the trustworthiness of Ms. Reeve’s ability to testify in this proceeding. So much so, that the Commonwealth is now prepared to dismiss … the indictment in this matter.”
During a hearing last summer, Reeves took the witness stand and admitted lying to insurance investigators, and signing a notarized letter to the insurance company regarding the lost coat dated Sept. 24, 2014, that contained false testimony.
At the July hearing, Moncier asked Reeves why she had lied to insurance investigators when they visited her in jail about the case.
“I did what Tristan told me to do. Stick to the story,” Reeves testified.
“You were always doing what Tristan told you?” Moncier asked.
“Correct,” she replied.
What lead to dismissal
Moncier declined to speculate Thursday on what ultimately lead prosecutors to agree to dismiss the charges in both cases, and deferred comment on that issue to Steele.
“I’m not going to speculate as to what brought this about,” he added.
Steele said there wasn’t any one thing that prompted prosecutors to decide to dismiss the charges but just a “convergence of everything kind of coming together.”
“We have ethical obligations. Once we feel as though we can’t successfully prosecute a case or have probable cause to prosecute a case. We had to dismiss it and that is where we found ourselves at,” Steele explained. “As we tried to get these cases ready for trial, we realized some statements of witnesses could not be relied on any more and the problems we would have getting witnesses here in the future.”
Much delayed case
The criminal solicitation to commit murder case against Hall has faced various delays in the three years that it has been pending, including the original prosecutor and judge recusing themselves from the case, the appointment of various special judges in the case, and a change of legal counsel by Hall, who was formerly represented by the late Warren Scoville.
Prosecutors had offered numerous, and increasingly tempting, plea agreement offers in recent months in an attempt to close out all the felony cases against Hall. In nearly all of them, officials only wanted Hall to plead guilty to a lesser charge in the case involving calls made to Trimble. All the plea offers planned to simply drop the other cases entirely.
Hall spent 495 days in jail or on home incarceration (294 days in the Whitley County Detention Center and 201 on home incarceration). None of the charges against him were ever brought to trial. After his initial arrest, he had been accepted to law school at the University of Dayton, but the offer was then rescinded after he claims prosecutors contacted the school about his cases. Now, he claims, it would be difficult to re-obtain admission even if all of the charges, misdemeanors included, are dismissed.
“I’m 32-years-old. It wasn’t just my future that was stolen, but the last little part of my youth was stolen as well. The time where people meet others and settle down, that was taken away from me.”
Hall’s cases took numerous, bizarre twists and were plagued with paperwork snafus, confusion and conflicting judicial orders.
He was in and out of jail on five separate occasions. He was once free for about a week when his bond was reduced after a court hearing, and then the special judge, at the time, issued a new order increasing the bond and ordering him back to jail. The order was made just before the judge retired from the bench, and there was a delay before Spalding was finally assigned to the case.
On a couple of occasions, Hall’s family attempted to bond him out of jail, but were inexplicably delayed, or weren’t allowed to do so even though they had the funds to meet the bond conditions.
Hall was even ordered to return to jail for violating a supposed condition of his bond (possession of a computer) that, once everything was sorted out in court, was never a condition of his bond to begin with.
Hall was assaulted by another inmate during one of his stints in jail while he was sleeping and suffered a concussion. The inmate, who was charged in the incident, received no additional jail time as a result of the assault. His sentence was run concurrently with time he was to serve on another charge in Tennessee.
Hall’s mother, Debra Brown, said the ordeal has shaken any faith she has in the local judicial system.
“My son spent over a year in jail for nothing. I just can’t believe it. Seriously! In America? Really?” Brown said. “The justice system here is broken and you don’t realize it until you get involved with it. It takes an extreme emotional, physical and financial toll on you.”
“It’s just like a nightmare you can’t wake up from,” Brown said. “If it could happen to my child, it could happen to yours.”
Brown said she is sometimes afraid to speak out about the way her son’s cases were handled because of possible retaliation. She said she also worries that if he returns to Williamsburg he could be targeted by police or prosecutors.
As to the original accusation that he made a post on Topix seeking a hitman, Hall steadfastly denies the claim and says he had no motivation to do so. He said he did not know the alleged victim in the case, and intended to introduce evidence at trial that he was not even in the area when the posting was made to the website’s local forum.
Two more cases pending
Hall still has two misdemeanor criminal court cases pending in Whitley District Court.
In one case, Hall is charged with hindering the prosecution or apprehension of Reeves on June 24, 2014.
On that day, Williamsburg police went to Hall’s residence with a search warrant and an arrest warrant in connection with the retaliation case.
When Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird asked Hall where Reeves was, Hall replied that he hadn’t seen her in three to six months, but police found her hiding in one of the bedroom closets inside the home.
Hall maintains that he didn’t know police had an arrest warrant for Reeves at the time he responded to Bird’s question and that he had not been read his constitutional rights at that point. He also claims the search warrant was just a ruse concocted in order to surmise what his strategy would be at trial, what evidence the defense might be planning to present, and to get access to complaints he planned to make to the Kentucky Bar Association against Trimble and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Stephens, and a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commission against Circuit Judge Paul Winchester. They were notarized the day before being seized and Hall was arrested.
“Those complaints were done and sealed in the envelope ready to be mailed,” Hall said. “They got that search warrant based on some calls I supposedly made to Trimble. Why did they seize my documents? What do documents and receipts have to do with phone calls?”
Police also seized a firearm from Hall’s car. He has a valid Kentucky concealed-carry permit and was never forbidden by pre-trial release conditions from possessing a firearm. Police have admitted to taking the firearm in error, but it has not yet been returned.
Hall also has a harassing communications charge pending in connection with a January 2015 incident where Reeves was allegedly the victim.
Reeves alleged that after Hall was released from jail last January, he e-mailed her on Jan. 19, 2015, and later wrote her again on Jan. 21 in another e-mail, according to the arrest warrant.
One of Hall’s bond conditions at the time called for him not to use a computer. Hall’s attorneys argued, however, that the condition was added to case paperwork in error and that the judge actually allowed him access to a computer in an oral order.
After Jan. 21, 2015, Reeves alleged that Hall started calling her phone telling everything about her, such as knowing exactly what she was doing and who she was dating, the warrant alleged.
He allegedly called Reeves several times on Jan. 22, 2015, and told her she could come over and do her work at his residence and that he had a computer hidden there, the warrant stated.
During the last phone call, Reeves alleged that Hall told her if she didn’t come spend the night that he was going to press charges against her and send nude pictures of her to her current boyfriend, according to the warrant.
Hall has pled not guilty to charges in both cases and maintains his innocence.
Moncier said that Hall has demands for speedy trial motions in both cases that have been pending since last February. No actions appear to have been taken on the motions.
Moncier credited another of Hall’s attorneys, local lawyer Lee Gilbert, as being instrumental in the case.
“He was a tremendous help to me, a very tremendous help. I am grateful for the assistance he provided me. He was very, very outstanding,” Moncier added.
Steele said that both Trimble and Melissa Jones Davis, who were the victims in the two cases that were dismissed, were consulted about his decision to dismiss the charges prior to him filing the motion.
“They were disappointed,” Steele noted. “I can’t say they were happy about it but I think they understood our position, why we felt like we had to do what we did but they weren’t happy about it though.”
When asked about the matter Monday morning, Trimble’s only comment about the case was “we respect what the judge did.”