STEUBENVILLE - Members of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus are questioning Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin's decision to testify at a sentencing hearing for former Steubenville High School and West Virginia University athlete Branko Busick.
Busick was placed on five years probation in a Monongahelia County Circuit Court after five character witnesses testified at the hearing on April 17.
Busick had pleaded guilty to two charges of felonious assault stemming from two incidents in 2011 in Morgantown.
"Branko had already pleaded guilty to the charges and accepted responsibility for what he did. His attorney asked myself and four other people to testify about the Branko we had known at different points in his life. It was important for the judge to have that information," explained Hanlin.
"A sentencing hearing is designed to let the defendant show what he was like prior to the crime. The prosecutor in the case asked me if I had stayed in contact with Branko after he went to West Virginia University and I said no. I had known him when he played football and wrestled at Big Red," Hanlin continued.
"It is no difference than a sentencing hearing in Jefferson County when someone speaks up for a defendant who is facing sentencing. The judge in Morgantown, who has 10 year of experience on the bench, listened to the testimony and made his determination to place Branko on probation. Anyone can say something if they want during the sentencing hearing. Then the judge makes the decision," said Hanlin.
"I was asked to testify as a parent of a son who was starting to wrestle and looked to Branko as a mentor. I did not attend the hearing in my role as prosecutor but as a private citizen," Hanlin added.
"The Ohio Valley Black Caucus as well as other area citizens are very concerned about our prosecuting attorney being involved in this case. The actions of her going to West Virginia to be a character witness are very disrespectful and appalling. We also found it to be a conflict," said Delores Wiggins, president of the caucus.
"The Ohio Valley Black Caucus has received numerous telephone calls from whites and blacks, as well as leaders in the community questioning the actions of the prosecutor," Wiggins said.
"We find her actions wrong and not befitting a prosecutor. Jefferson County deserves better. And we intend to speak out on this issue at the state and federal levels. Integrity is all a person has. Once that is lost, there is only one way you can go," Wiggins noted.
"Jane Hanlin sends people away for crimes, which is her duty. And she may be called to send someone away who has done less than Branko Busick did," said Roy Cochran, chairman of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus board of directors.
"This is a double standard, disparate treatment and unjust action by the prosecutor. In my 18 years in civil rights I have never seen a prosecuting attorney have words to say in favor of a criminal," Cochran said.
"Jane Hanlin cannot let her personal feelings interfere with her job as Jefferson County prosecuting attorney. When it comes to a matter of criminal standards, her job is to uphold the law. I think she made a horrible mistake and lowered her standards for the Busick family. This is nothing against Branko or his family, but wrong is wrong. I wish Branko well in all he does, and I wish Mrs. Hanlin well. But Mrs. Hanlin has to do her job correctly," noted Jane Hyman, a member of the caucus.
"This is meant as no offense or disrespect to the Busick family. They were trying to keep their son from going to jail. They wanted to take him home and used all avenues available to them. The Busick family is not to blame for trying to help their son," stated Wiggins.
"I would have done the same thing. However the prosecuting attorney should have stayed out of the case. Our former prosecutors Thomas Strauss, Bryan Felmet and even Stephen Stern would never have been in this situation," Wiggins said.
Busick faced two to 10 years on both felony counts but was placed on probation that prohibits him from using alcohol or drugs, entering bars or frequent restaurants with excessive alcohol consumption, must continue treatment with Alcoholics Anonymous and is subject to random drug testing.
Busick also is to pay more than $2,000 in restitution and perform 250 hours of community service and keep a steady job.
Beverly Kelly said she is concerned as a citizen because, "the prosecuting attorney is a public official and public officials should not be serving as character witnesses. They should not step out of the boundaries."
"I don't understand the gun laws in West Virginia. But I believe our citizens have suffered enough. I am very disappointed and surprised by Jane Hanlin's actions. The entire Ohio Valley is disappointed," Wiggins stated.
She also said the Ohio Black Caucus has contacted national civil rights leaders regarding the issue.