Jury clears former police officer; verdict called ‘just’
Published 8:40 pm Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The jury verdict clearing a retired Troy police officer of sexual abuse charges is being hailed as a “just and true verdict.”
“Willie Toney was found not guilty because he was in fact ‘not guilty,’” said defense attorney Grady Reeves. “Thank God for the 12 people with enough common sense to listen to the evidence and render a just and true verdict.”
Toney had been charged with one count of rape in the first degree; two counts of sodomy; and two counts of enticing a child in conjunction with a pair of incidents that took place in early 2008.
He was indicted in 2012, and testimony began April 14 with the prosecution led by Kelly Hawkins of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.
The jury deliberated approximately six hours on Thursday and another hour Tuesday morning before returning not guilty verdicts on all charges.
“I have been involved with the criminal justice system in Pike County for 41 years,” Reeves said. “The fact that Willie Toney was made to stand trial on these charges was the worst travesty of justice that I have seen in these 41 years.”
His outrage was echoed by former mayor Jimmy Lunsford, who said “(Attorney General) Luther Strange ought to be ashamed. The Attorney General’s office took a girl who suffered one tragedy – she most likely was actually abused – and chose to put this girl through a trial, another tragedy,” he said. “Even the most inexperienced prosecutor should know you couldn’t get a guilty verdict on an innocent man.”
Both Reeves and Lunsford cited what they described as a six-year mission by the Attorney General’s Office to bring the case to trial. And, both expressed outrage over the prosecutor’s decision to attack the credibility of the Troy Police Department and its employees during the trial.
“Knowing they could not win a case on facts they chose to attack the administration and the police department in Troy, Alabama, going so far as to question the ‘band of brothers who went through great lengths to protect their brother,’” Lunsford said, referring to a prosecutor’s statement in court.
“But this case had been presented to four different grand juries and until this last time he was never indicted.”
Reeves said a Pike County grand jury heard the testimony and evidence within a few weeks of the initial allegations being made. The grand jury refused to indict Toney at that time.
“Certain people who were involved with the investigation of these allegations were not satisfied because the grand jury refused to indict,” Reeves said.
“In order to placate these individuals, the case was presented to a second Pike County grand jury. This grand jury also refused to indict.”
Until that point the case had been handled by the Alabama Bureau of Investigations and the Pike County District Attorney’s Office.
After the second grand jury failed to indict, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office got involved. “After investigating the case for almost a year, the federal grand jury returned no indictments,” Reeves said. “Prosecutors from the (state) Attorney General’s Office presented the case to yet a fourth grand jury. Again, the Pike County grand jury refused to indict …
“However, the prosecutors for the Attorney General’s Office were determined to have their day in court. They finally got a grand jury to indict … on the fifth try.”
Lunsford said the prosecutors’ attack on the police department, its former and current chiefs, and investigators was offensive. “(Former) Chief (Anthony) Everage and Sgt. Calista Everage (one of three investigators) are two of the most principled people I know in law enforcement,” Lunsford said, referring to two of the officers who testified. Current Chief Jimmy Ennis also testified. “And we all agreed if there was any chance Willie Toney was guilty, we would have been the first to prosecute.”
But, he said, Toney maintained his innocence throughout the investigation. “At every juncture he volunteered and insisted he be given a lie detector test, against the advice of his counsel,” Lunsford said.
“His statement was that an innocent man doesn’t have to worry about taking a lie detector test.
“And he passed every one of them (administered by the Troy Police Department).”
Toney served 18 years on the Troy Police Department, including several as school resource officer. “I’ve known Willie Toney all his life,” Lunsford said. “I picked cotton with him as he grew up on my farm and I followed his military career. When he came back to Troy, I went to him and asked him to join the police department …
“Never in his career has he ever been accused of doing anything wrong.”
Lunsford said now that Toney has been cleared of the charges, he hopes the Attorney General’s Office plans to continue investigating the apparent crime. “I would hope the Attorney General’s Office would now be just as zealous in an attempt to find out who actually perpetrated this crime,” he said.
Representatives of the Attorney General’s Office would not comment on the case or the verdict.
After the verdicts were announced Tuesday morning, Toney gathered with friends and family in the basement of the courthouse and prayed.
He left holding hands with his wife. Neither commented on the verdict.
Matthew Jordan sat in on the trial of his longtime friend every day. Jordan and Toney met in the Army 44 years ago.
“I just know the man has good morals,” Jordan said. “A retired military man, retired police officer. He’s a server.”