July 5, 2013

“RALEIGH – During a hearing at the state Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Gerald Arnold repeatedly asked a state prosecutor about the fairness of testimony by (Bob) Kelly’s former attorney in Edenton. Arnold said the attorney had, in effect, testified that he believed in Kelly’s innocence until he learned his child had been abused.

“ ‘How can you argue that it was not extremely prejudicial?’ the judge asked.

“Associate Attorney General Ellen Scouten argued that Chris Bean did not divulge confidential information and did not violate an attorney-client relationship with Kelly. She said Bean testified as a parent and a crime victim.

“Arnold said Bean, now a district court judge, had gone beyond describing what he had seen and witnessed as a parent.

“ ‘This boils down to the most fundamental questions of fairness,’ Arnold said. ‘When you have an attorney testifying that “I was Mr. Kelly’s attorney and I believed in him very strongly until I learned the truth, that is to say that he’s guilty, and then I was shattered.” How can there be more prejudicial, stronger evidence put before a jury than to have a former attorney, the defendant’s attorney say that?’

“Scouten said that because the defense had contended that accusers in Edenton were hysterical people on a witch hunt it was fair to allow the state to show the type of people involved.

“ ‘Mr. Bean and his wife were reputable, respected thoughtful, educated people – not the type of people that would be swept up by community hysteria,’ she said.”

– From “Appeal of 2 defendants in Little Rascals case draws a crowd” in the News & Observer (Jan. 10, 1995)

Given this line of questioning, it came as no great surprise when four months later the Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of both Kelly and Dawn Wilson.

Bean’s unfettered opinionating was only one of three major defects cited by the court, the others being the withholding of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors and the testimony of parents as expert witnesses.

The prosecution got off light – the brief filed by appellate defender Mark Montgomery claimed no fewer than 222 potentially reversible errors.