Special Prosecutor Removed (2024)

Special Prosecutor Removed (1)

The Inter-Mountain photo by Edgar KelleyStephen Ray Cross, left, appeared at the Randolph County Courthouse for a pretrial motions hearing on Monday. Cross has been charged with one count of murder and is accused of taking the life of Jonathan Chenoweth in March 2023. Shown with Cross is his attorney James Hawkins, right, while Randolph County Circuit Court Judge David Wilmoth looks on from the bench.

ELKINS — The special prosecutor in a Randolph County murder trial asked to be removed from the case Monday due to a friendship with an “expert witness.”

Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Hinkle requested removal from the murder trial of Stephen Ray Cross during pretrial motions at the Randolph County Courthouse Monday.

Cross, 54, was indicted on one count of murder, and one felony count of use or presentation of a firearm during commission of a felony, by a RandolphCounty grand jury in October 2023.

Hinkle was selected as a special prosecutor for the case last year after Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker recused himself and his office because of a potential conflict of interest.

Hinkle told the court on Monday that he recently learned a witness in the case was a childhood friend.

“Based on my prior friendship, a childhood friendship with an expert witness, which I didn’t find out about until a week or two before I filed my initial response, I don’t feel like I could appropriately cross-examine him,” Hinkle said during Monday’s hearing. “I still consider him a friend. In fact when I spoke to him by email he suggested that we get our prior team we played on for some kind of reunion… I think the court should allow me to withdraw and appoint another prosecutor.”

Attorneys James Hawkins of Buckhannon and Ryan Donovan of Charleston represented Cross at the pretrial hearing Monday.

Donovan told Randolph County Circuit Judge David Wilmoth he was concerned that removing Hinkle would lead to more delays in the case.

“We are a month away from trial in this case and Mr. Cross has been incarcerated since March of 2023,” said Donovan. “If Mr. Hinkle is disqualified and a new special prosecutor is appointed, it’s very likely we will move the trial date and Mr. Cross will remain incarcerated indefinitely, which is a violation of his constitutional rights… If the court does disqualify Mr. Hinkle today, we would request that Mr. Cross be released on a PR ( personal recognizance) bond.”

Donovan also argued that the relationship of Hinkle and the witness wasn’t substantial enough for Hinkle to be removed as prosecutor for the case.

“They played high school football together a long, long time ago,” said Donovan. “They have not seen one another since 1995, and prior to working this case they have not even shared conversation in more than 10 years. In light of those facts, we don’t consider this a friendship that would impact this case.”

After hearing both sides speak, Wilmoth announced his decision to the court.

“I am going to grant Mr. Hinkle’s motion to be disqualified,” Wilmoth said. “He believes that there is a conflict and if there is an issue that will cause him to question his participation in this case or his effort, and if he feels that way, I think it’s appropriate to allow him to step aside… The ideal situation would be for a third party to take a look at it and let the special prosecutor make the decision regarding how they want to do this case and move forward.”

Jury selection for Cross’ trial is scheduled for May 6 at Randolph County Courthouse.

“In regard to the request for the defendant to be placed on a personal recognizance bond, I’m going to deny that request,” Wilmoth said. “He has been indicted on a murder charge, whether it’s first degree murder, or whether it’s second degree murder, or whatever, it’s potentially a capital offense and bond has been set the way it has. I have reviewed it multiple times and I have decided I’m not going to modify it.”

Hinkle told Wilmoth he had prepared an order to file for a new special prosecutor in the case. Wilmoth said the new prosecutor will be selected before jury selection on May 6.

“We will get a new prosecutor between now and then and see where we stand,” Wilmoth said.

Before the hearing ended, Donovan asked the judge, “Is it my understanding that Mr. Cross is being incarcerated indefinitely?”

Wilmoth replied, “No, he’s got bond that he can post if he wants to get out.”

During Cross’s arraignment in April of 2023, bond was set at $2 million cash-only.

Cross, 54, is accused of taking the life of Jonathan Chenoweth, 48, a resident of Chenoweth Creek.

In March 2023, Cross was arrested and charged after an incident at his home on Chenoweth Creek Road. According to the criminal complaint, once police arrived at the home, Chenoweth was found slumped over the center console of a UTV and appeared to have suffered a fatal gunshot wound.

According to the complaint, police observed at least three bulletholes through thewindshield of the UTV. Officers obtained a written statement from a witness to the incident who said Chenoweth was unarmed, and that when he pulled into Cross’s driveway, Cross opened fire, shooting five to eight times.

The complaint stated that a witness saw Cross standing approximately5 to 10 feet away behind a white van and observed him producea sidearm and open fire. Accordingto the complaint, a total of seven spent shell casings from a 9mm gun were located. No weapons were found near the victim.

According to the complaint, before officers with the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office and West Virginia State Police were dispatched to the shooting scene, Randolph County 911 had received a call about a person shooting a dog on the Chenoweth Creek Road, and officers were en route to that call before they were redirected to Cross’s home.

Cross is currentlyan inmate at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail.

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