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Kirk: Drugs common at jail
date: 17-March-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
No wonder prisons are so popular!!!! Drugs and sex available to all. paraphernalia gets it at the end....

Mar 17 2005

Witness got pregnant while serving time at McNairy County Jail

SELMER - Despite defense attorneys' efforts on Wednesday to have McNairy County Sheriff Tommy Riley and Jail Administrator Jimmy Lyles acquitted, the men will most likely take the stand today in day four of their trial.The two face charges that they facilitated the escape of a female inmate who was impregnated by a jailer, tampered with government records and filed a false report. All the charges are related to the prosecution's contention that the two men secured the female inmate's early release to help her get an abortion.

Riley is also charged with official misconduct and could be removed from office if convicted of that charge.

After prosecutors rested their case, Abernathy and Donahoe presented motions to Judge Joseph Walker to acquit Riley and Lyles on all four counts of their charges, citing insufficient evidence. Those motions were denied.

The day began with Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Scott Lott continuing to provide information in the investigation of the jail. Lott came under fire from Riley's attorney, Terry Abernathy, and Lyles' attorney, Mark Donahoe, for inaccuracies in his notes and errors that he allegedly made.

''Memories are sometimes faulty, are they not?'' Abernathy questioned. ''Just to remember what room you got a document from, you have to refer to your notes.''

Abernathy pointed to the transcript viewed in the second day of court proceedings where Lott mistakenly placed former inmate Shelia Kirk's name where Betty Kirk's should have been.

Prosecutors say Shelia Kirk, 26, was impregnated last year by a jailer and allowed to leave in order to have an abortion with the understanding that she would return to serve the remainder of her sentence.

Kirk and her mother, Betty Kirk, were the last two witnesses called Wednesday by prosecutor Walt Freeland.

Shelia Kirk testified that in July 2003 she pleaded guilty to forgery and was charged with two counts.

''I received two years for count one and two years for count two,'' Kirk said. ''I was to serve them consecutively at 30 percent.''

Kirk reported to jail on Jan. 1, 2004, the agreed start date of her sentence.

At her estimation her total sentence was about eight months for both counts, but she was released June 17, 2004. That left her with several months remaining on her sentence.

Prosecutor Freeland questioned Kirk about a delay from the date she was sentenced to the date she reported to jail.

''I was pregnant at the time of sentencing,'' Kirk explained. ''I was given time to give birth to my son and time to recover.''

Two months into Kirk's sentence, her mother, Betty, hired an attorney in the effort to reduce her sentence since she believed her daughter was no longer abusing drugs. The Kirks, however, lost their case and Shelia remained in jail, where she began a relationship with jailer Johnny Carter.

Carter pleaded guilty on March 2 to one count of sexual penetration of an inmate and three counts of introduction of contraband into the jail. He was scheduled to be sentenced today but that has been postponed due to the trial, according to a McNairy County Circuit Court clerk.

On Wednesday, Kirk explained how their relationship began.

''We liked each other and we talked a lot,'' she said. ''He was a real nice man. I liked him, and he liked me.''

Another jailer during the third shift assisted on the day Kirk met with Carter for a sexual encounter in the fingerprinting room, according to Kirk\'s testimony.

''There's a door that can be popped open,'' Kirk said. ''She let me out, and she was aware of the purpose she let me out for.''

During Kirk and Carter's relationship, there were frequent exchanges of letters, money, cigarettes, marijuana and Xanax.

Kirk confided in the same female jailer who assisted with her meeting with Carter that she believed she was pregnant. The jailer, Kirk said, gave her a pregnancy test but still allowed Riley to order a test for her.

When Kirk met with Riley about her possible pregnancy, she did not tell him that it had already been confirmed, she testified.

''He was more upset when he found out I was for sure pregnant,'' said Kirk, who did not provide the sheriff with details about the jailer's involvement in the incident. ''I told him that I'd rather not release any names because I was afraid it'd be harder on me in jail if I got them in trouble.''

Kirk asked Riley for a three-day furlough so that she could get an abortion, she testified.

From Lyles' office, she called Women's Reproductive Health in Memphis to make an appointment for an abortion.

After she made the phone call, Kirk informed her mother and the father of her children that she would be getting out of jail because of ''female problems.''

Kirk was released from the McNairy County Jail on June 17, 2004, and planned to return on June 20 to the facility.

''They brought me my personal clothes and a jailer walked me out,'' Kirk said. ''I didn't have to sign anything.''

While out of jail, Kirk met with Carter to receive funds in order to pay for her abortion.

''I wrote Carter a letter telling him I expected him to pay for it,'' Kirk said.

While Kirk was cross-examined by Riley's attorney, Terry Abernathy, an observer in the courtroom whispered, ''Man, she's tough as nails,'' as she answered candid questions about her history with drugs, abortion and her early release from jail.

According to her testimony, drugs were readily available in the jail, but she could not afford them and she was trying to stay away from them.

''I chose not to use cocaine, but I took some nerve pills,'' Kirk said. ''I did sell marijuana to other inmates.''

When it came to drug activity, Carter became Kirk's supplier.

''I couldn't afford jail prices,'' she said. ''All I could afford were cigarettes.''

Abernathy attacked Kirk's credibility, her drug problems and her self-interest to receive a lighter sentence if she testified in the case.

''I hope not to be put on house arrest or probation,'' Kirk responded.

In her answers to Freeland's questions, Kirk said she had not been promised anything by the prosecution.

''I assume that I'll probably have to serve what's left, and for the escape charge I'll hire a lawyer and do my best to show that I didn't escape,'' Kirk said.

Abernathy countered with the testimony of another inmate who said Kirk told her she ''got pregnant on purpose.''

''Getting pregnant is the last thing I wanted,'' said Kirk, who is already the mother of four children.

Betty Kirk was the final witness for the prosecution on Wednesday.

Part of her time on the stand was spent reviewing the audiotaped conversation between herself and Sheriff Riley. Kirk didn't want her daughter to return to jail because of everything that happened.

''I hate all this happened,'' Betty Kirk said. ''I thought my daughter would be safer in jail than out there in the streets.''

Kirk testified she feared for herself and daughter since she was ''the reason Shelia didn't go back to jail after she had the abortion.''

''I told Sheriff Riley that all hell was going to break loose if Shelia had to go back to this jail,\'\' Kirk said.

Visit talkback.jacksonsun.com and share your thoughts.

- Tajuana Cheshier, (731) 425-9758

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