GATE CITY — A now-discredited eyewitness whose testimony led to a man being wrongly accused of a Christmas 2011 murder in Nickelsville pleaded guilty to perjury charges Friday in Scott County Circuit Court.
Carl Edward Keith, 42, of Nickelsville, entered guilty pleas to charges of perjury and filing a false police report for providing testimony that led authorities to mistakenly arrest a man for the shooting death of Gregory Jerome Hale.
“It’s our belief that he pled guilty because he is guilty,” Scott County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcus McClung said. “I don’t know that he had a whole lot of choice. He testified. We had all his statements on record, and he withdrew those and shared that he had lied during that time and under oath. I don’t know the motive for doing it, but I know the problems that he caused us.”
McClung said Keith’s actions hindered law enforcement’s investigation of the shooting and wasted hundreds of officer man-hours in the process.
“What he did cost us a lot of time and a lot of effort based on his statement, which was supposedly an eyewitness to a murder,” McClung said.
“We focused our time and effort on what he told us, and because it’s a first-degree murder, and a capital murder in the case of (Daniel Eugene) Norris, there was a lot of work that went into it in terms of man-hours from my office and the sheriff’s office, from the state police.
“You’re not talking tens of hours; you’re talking thousands of hours from multiple people working. Then you’re out there trying to gather evidence, while the real killers are not being focused on.”
Keith is scheduled for sentencing March 1, where he faces up to 10 years in prison on the perjury charge. McClung said his office would ask the court for the maximum sentence.
“We’re going to let the judge know the amount of hours and work we put in, and certainly the most compelling thing is that a man that was wrongly accused was locked up for a few months,” McClung said.
Authorities originally arrested Nickelsville resident Brian Mitchell Large Feb. 3 on first-degree murder charges in Hale’s death based largely on the false testimony given by Keith.
Keith told investigators that Large shot Hale in the head from close range following a botched drug deal.
Large was held for almost three months at the Duffield jail before authorities received an anonymous tip that led them to charge Charlie Joe Ramey, 60, and Daniel Eugene Norris, 36, both of Bristol, Tenn., with Hale’s murder.
“After the preliminary hearing where he was questioned under oath, we thought some things didn’t add up, and it set off red flags,” McClung said.
“We said, ‘Let’s keep this investigation open, let’s not keep it narrow.’ Then we got an anonymous tip that really broke the case open, and then after he was confronted he made the statement that he fabricated his testimony.”
Large was released shortly after Keith recanted, and the same day search warrants were executed on Ramey’s residence.
McClung said Keith had no connection to the new suspects in the case and had simply fabricated his testimony against Large.
McClung said the case was the first of its type he has handled since taking office in 2003.
“We’ve caught people lying about being victims, but we’ve never had someone lie about the defendant committing the crime, especially in a case of this magnitude like a murder,” McClung said.
“But that’s why we’re here, to find the truth, not just to convict someone.”