Frankie Covington has served 16 years to life for kidnapping his former attorney, but now he may have a chance at freedom.
The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy is seeking to overturn his conviction and win a new trial against him on the grounds that the attorney, now the Commonwealth Attorney for Bourbon, Scott and Woodford counties, committed perjury when she was in testified at his trial in 2011.
Lawyers for the agency said they re-investigated the highly publicized kidnapping after one of the prosecutors who tried said he found discrepancies between Sharon Muse Johnson’s testimony in court and her account of the crime in her 2020 book ” Kidnapped by a Client: The Incredible True notes story of a lawyer’s fight for justice.
“In my opinion, the ‘facts’ presented in the book are in part inconsistent with the facts presented to me prior to the trial by Muse Johnson, the evidence presented at the trial and my recollection,” prosecutor Keith Eardley said in a co-author’s letter affidavit submitted with the application.
Mitch McConnell: Rick Scott is challenging Mitch McConnell for the top spot of GOP Senate leadership
Eardley, who unsuccessfully ran against Muse Johnson for Commonwealth Counsel in 2018, said he had an ethical obligation to report the inconsistencies. His former boss, retired Commonwealth Attorney Gordy Shaw, said in a separate affidavit that he agreed. Prosecutors must provide opposing counsel with evidence of a defendant’s innocence, and Shaw notified the General Counsel of the Department of Public Advocacy.
Lawyers are now questioning whether the kidnapping actually took place
In the 38-page filing, filed Nov. 4 in Bourbon Circuit Court, attorneys for the Public Advocacy Division Whitney Browning and Chelsea Clem say a comparison of Muse Johnson’s statements over time — including immediately after the crime, in a victim impact testimony in court, in her book, and in public appearances where the book was promoted — uncovered numerous “glaring inconsistencies” that render her affidavit unreliable.
“The Commonwealth deprived Mr Covington of the basic concept of justice and liberty when his key witness produced an affidavit and a fabricated version of events,” the motion reads. “Mr. Covington is currently incarcerated not only for a crime he did not commit, but for a crime that most likely never happened.”
Muse Johnson’s attorney, Kenyon Meyer, said she would not comment on the motion. But in an email he said: “All victims of crime deserve justice. Attacking victims like Ms. Muse Johnson deters all crime victims from having the courage to share their stories.”
Meyer also said, “These attacks against her are being advanced because of a political agenda from a former prosecutor who beat her out of office in 2018.”
“If the issues your former opponent is trying to raise had any validity, he would have addressed them years ago,” Meyer said.
Muse Johnson’s book account differs from an affidavit
The filing says that during a taped interview with police hours after the alleged crime, Muse Johnson said Covington “pinched her neck and nothing more.”
But five years later, she testified that Covington touched her multiple times, including near her genitals.
And in her book, she wrote that he “beat me all over my body” and banged her head against a window and the steering wheel.
“Stars exploded behind my eyes,” she wrote.
Public prosecutors say in the filing that the injuries she claims did not match those in a medical report from Georgetown Hospital, which said she sustained minor injuries.
The motion said she exaggerated and made up her story, “presumably to gain recognition and notoriety in the community.”
In his affidavit, Eardley, now Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for Counties Garrard and Jessamine, noted that Muse Johnson wrote in her book that Covington threatened to kill her when she escaped. “‘It may be tomorrow, it may be next year, but I will kill you,” she quoted him as saying.
But Eardley said she did not tell or share this with police “to my knowledge”, although they discussed the crime in detail before the trial.
He also pointed to discrepancies between the injuries she allegedly sustained – including “bloody wounds on her chest” – and the evidence in court that she suffered “three minor scratches”.
Muse Johnson says on the cover of her book that this is a true account; In a footnote, she said she changed Covington’s last name to prevent him from becoming better known.
Judge races in Kentucky:How Justice Candidates Fared With Notable Incidents Tuesday
Covington, 58, is serving his time at the Lee Adjustment Center, a medium-security facility in Beattyville, about 140 miles southeast of Louisville.
“Mr. Covington is aware of the motion and would like an opportunity to present his case before another jury,” Browning said. But she said he was not hopeful. “Mr. Covington has served for over 16 years and lost a lot of hope in our criminal justice system.”
How Frankie Covington was convicted of kidnapping
Sharon Muse, as she was known at the time, left her office at 5 p.m. on April 7, 2006 when Covington, whom she had previously briefly represented in district court, showed up asking for help with a will. She told him to make an appointment.
He then asked for a ride to his grandmother’s house, pointing out that stormy weather was coming.
In her initial statements, Muse Johnson said she agreed to give him one, according to the application. But in court, she testified that he opened the door to her car without permission. Years later, when she set up a website to promote her book, she wrote that she had said “no” to him seven times when he asked for the ride.
He drove her to a remote farm, where she said he pulled out a knife to rape her. But she escaped.
Crime in Kentucky:2 Central Kentucky murder charges could be dismissed due to possible prosecutorial errors
Covington pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, kidnapping and being a persistent criminal in a 2007 plea deal in exchange for a 20-year sentence. But after a psychological examination, the judge imposed a life sentence. He appealed, and the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed, saying he should have had the right to withdraw his lawsuit when it was rejected by the court.
Five years later his case went to trial and a jury found him guilty of kidnapping and being a persistent criminal. He was acquitted of sexual abuse charges and sentenced to life imprisonment when his sentence was increased for persistence.
Covington had previously been convicted of multiple felonies, according to court records, but the jury was told of only one of them, a 2003 terrorist threat, for which he served three years. He was released a few days before the kidnapping.
The Commonwealth claimed he kidnapped her to avenge his conviction and sentence. But the motion says that made no sense because she only represented him at a preliminary hearing and got him out of jail.
The application will be heard by a special judge, but no date has been set for a hearing.
Muse Johnson’s previous cases were reviewed
Muse Johnson won her first term as Counsel for the Commonwealth in 2018, facing charges of inappropriateness. These include a former judge’s allegation that she used too many grand juries in criminal cases. Because Kentucky law requires only nine votes for indictment, summoning more grand jurors increases the chances of an indictment.
The attorney general’s office investigated more than 160 cases in its district and recommended dismissing many. Including two counts of murder and one count of child rape.
The ex-judge also accused her of using government funds and jeopardizing ongoing proceedings by having the pilot for a TV show filmed in her office. Her lawyer Meyer said at the time that she had done nothing wrong. The Attorney General’s office has determined that there is no crime, said spokeswoman Krista Buckel.