Split decision in Guffey Campaign Sign Theft

District attorney Ted Bell with Wayne Guffey and Josh Valentine with Kerrick Hudson face Judge in court earlier in May.

RUTHERFORDTON — Judge Ali Paksoy,  district court judge for the 27B Judicial District, which presides over Cleveland and Lincoln counties of North Carolina presided in district court Friday.  Paksoy was brought in to preside over the Word of Faith Fellowship member trial of Kerrick Hudson since Judge Rob Martelle had recused himself earlier in May.

Hudson faced charges of the removal of a campaign sign and with larceny of said sign. Hudson’s appearance near the sign was captured on a motion-activated “deer” camera that helped to identify him.

District Attorney Ted Bell served as trial prosecutor, one of the two trials he has done this year, with Wayne Guffey, victim.

Josh Valentine, of the firm Caulder & Valentine Law Firm PLLC, was the defense attorney for Hudson.

Prosecutor Bell appeared flustered and denied the receipt of a defense motion that had been personally  hand-delivered the day before. None of Bell’s staff was in the courtroom on this Friday.

(Note: During his political campaign Bell has argued that giving his employees “Comp” time on Fridays was legitimate since nothing ever happened on Friday.)

The motion had also been emailed. The question arose whether or not pastor of Word of Faith Fellowship (WoFF) would be given pastor/penitent immunity from testimony. Jane Whaley’s personal lawyer, Noell Tin of the firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen PLLC, represented the pastor.

The judge stated he would review both attorneys’ arguments. Bell, confused, asked the judge if he was going to do a voir dire, a preliminary examination of a witness or a juror by a judge or counsel. The judge ruled that Whaley would testify.

Bell did, however, establish the location of the sign that was stolen more than once, and called 30 year law enforcement veteran Wayne Guffey to testify about the sequence of events.

Guffey relayed the theft of the sign and that he had called his cousin Steve Guffey for the use of the deer camera to monitor the sign. When a captured photo was made public on social media, several people had identified the man as Kerrick Hudson.

According to Guffey he had received a call from Jane Whaley after the identification of the WoFF member. Bell established that Guffey through his experience was able to recognize Whaley’s voice. After a short conversation, Guffey said he would not be beholden to the church and would not be intimidated. Guffey stated on more than one occasion “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Defense attorney Josh Valentine was well prepared and established during the cross-examination that none of the photographs actually showed Hudson with the sign. Additionally he established from the photographs the location of the sign.

Valentine also established that the sign had been illegally placed there. Campaign signs can only be erected 30 days before early voting according to statute. He also challenged whether the sign was on State property or on private property.

Guffey’s cousin Steve in his testimony identified the camera, and on the stand verified the time and dates automatically stamped on the images stating he had not changed them since the time of the incident.

During cross-examination, Bell made several objections that were overruled by the judge whose stares seemed to express some dissatisfaction with Bell. Later Bell had to back track since he forgot to enter the deer cam picture exhibits into evidence.

Valentine later called the property owner of the land where the sign had been placed to the stand who testified he had never given permission for signs to be placed there.

When Bell called Whaley to the stand her account of the events matched those of Guffey with one exception. Whaley testified that “Hudson had moved the sign, not stolen it.”

At no time did Bell question whether someone had told Hudson to steal the sign.

Valentine established that the sign was not legally placed and pointed out that the statute only applied to legally placed campaign signs. Bell in his closing pointed out that payment offered to replace the sign indicated it was indeed stolen.

The judge ruled that Hudson was not guilty on removing the campaign sign.

The judge ruled that Hudson was guilty of larceny of the sign. Hudson received 45 days suspended to 12 month unsupervised probation and a $200 fine.

Valentine has appealed the guilty verdict which will be heard on Aug. 1, 2018.