- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — A judge has dismissed a drug case because it was investigated by two Henry County law-enforcement officials indicted last week on charges of selling drugs, and authorities said other cases could be jeopardized.

The case dismissed Friday involved Anthony Leon Hunt, who was charged with cocaine distribution in an investigation led by Deputies Travis Wilkins and Patrick Martin.

Deputies Wilkins and Martin, Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell, 10 other current or former sheriff’s deputies and seven civilians were named last week in a 48-count federal indictment that charges they sold drugs that were confiscated from criminals, stole evidence, laundered money and obstructed justice.

Circuit Court Judge G. Carter Greer dismissed the case against Hunt at the request of Martinsville prosecutors concerned about the involvement of Deputies Wilkins and Martin.

Prosecutor Joan Ziglar was dismayed that Hunt, who has at least two prior convictions for cocaine distribution, had escaped prosecution but thinks his case was the only one pending in Martinsville that involved the indicted deputies.

Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell also is reviewing his pending cases to see whether any might have been tainted by the arrests of the officers. Two of 18 cases slated for trial in the next 30 days have Deputy Martin on the potential witness list.

“It’s going to be a mammoth headache,” Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell said of the indictments’ impact on pending and possibly resolved cases.

If some of the Henry County law officers are convicted, people they helped put behind bars could start asking for new trials, Mr. Caldwell said.

“I can tell you that certainly it would be my belief that defense attorneys would be trying to get to that issue” in court proceedings, he said.

The situation leaves Mr. Bushnell in a tough spot, said Delegate Ward L. Armstrong, Henry County Democrat. Mr. Armstrong, who also is a lawyer, is defending one of the accused deputies.

“Clearly, the public’s trust in the sheriff’s department has been eroded,” he said. “And it will take some time for that to be repaired.”

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