PHILIPPI - A special prosecutor has been requested in a double fatality case because of a personal relationship between Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney Leckta Poling and a West Virginia State trooper - a relationship that Poling has confirmed.
Janel Marie Sturm, 28, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Barbour County Circuit Court to two felony counts of driving under the influence of a controlled substance or drugs causing death and one felony count of child neglect resulting in death.
Her attorney, Dennis Kittle of Fairmont, noted in court Tuesday he had filed a motion asking for the recusal of Poling because of a personal relationship between her and the investigating officer in the
"The relationship with the investigating officer might prejudice her against the accused, or appear to affect her ability to impartially perform discretionary functions of her office," the motion stated.
The motion filed by Kittle refers to an "Exhibit A" dated March 21 wherein Poling issued a statement admitting to a personal relationship with the investigating officer to Attorney Justina Helmick, of Philippi, who formerly represented Sturm.
"Please allow this letter to serve as formal written notification of my disclosure to you of the personal relationship between myself and the investigating officer in the above referenced matter," Poling wrote in the statement. "Please advise my office at your earliest convenience if your client desires to raise any 'conflict issues' in connection with my continued prosecution of this matter."
When contacted by The Inter-Mountain Tuesday, Poling would not disclose the type of relationship she has had with the investigating officer.
The officer is not named in the document; however, Poling confirmed Tuesday that Cpl. S.P. Miller, of the Elkins detachment of the West Virginia State Police, is the officer in question.
"I have disclosed (the relationship) as I'm ethically obligated to," Poling said. "That's all I'm going to comment on it."
Kittle did not reply to phone calls to his office Tuesday.
Circuit Judge Alan Moats did not rule on the motion Tuesday, but said he would set a hearing for the motion, allowing Poling the time to file a response.
Poling objected to the motion.
"There is no conflict, which is why I objected to the motion," Poling said after the hearing.
Sturm was charged after a single-vehicle crash Oct. 28 that caused the deaths of 7-week-old Raele Marie Felton and 29-year-old Travis W. Felton, who were both ejected from the vehicle.
Police said Sturm was driving on U.S. Route 250, north of Belington, when she lost control of the vehicle and ran off of the roadway, causing the vehicle to roll on its top.
On Tuesday, Kittle also asked that the $150,000 cash only bond set for Sturm be reduced to $25,000 so her family could afford to post bail.
Moats changed the bond from cash only to surety, but did not reduce the amount.
The judge also ordered that if Sturm posts bond, she not be allowed to drive.
This is not the first time Poling's private life has been brought up in court proceedings. In May 2013, her husband, William Francis "Frank" Poling Jr., was arrested for allegedly drugging her so he could look at her cellphone and email messages.
Police said Frank Poling allegedly crushed a tablet of the sedative Ambien and dissolved it in his wife's drink, which she then consumed, on Sept. 2, 2012, according to the criminal complaint. Once his wife was asleep, Frank Poling allegedly went through her cellphone attempting to find out about her phone activity, messages and emails, the complaint states.
"During 2012, the defendent had developed a suspicion about the victim's marital fidelity, and desired unfettered access to the victim's cellphone and emails," the complaint states.
In August, Frank Poling pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of battery before offering a public apology to his estranged wife.
Also in Barbour County Circuit Court Tuesday:
- Robert Edward Bulatko, 27, of Philippi, pleaded not guilty to one felony count of sexual assault in the third degree.
He was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim or any child, other than his own, under the age of 18.
He also was placed on bond supervision by the Barbour County Community Corrections program.
- Matthew Lewis Ball, 21, of Fairmont, pleaded not guilty to one felony count of breaking and entering, petit larceny, grand larceny, destruction of property and conspiracy.
Moats placed him on bond supervision in Marion County and ordered that he have no contact with the alleged victims.
- Charles Darrel George Jr., 40, of Belington, pleaded not guilty to one felony count of failure to register as a sex offender. He was ordered to have no contact with any child under 19.