Guiling appeals Judge Gill’s motion to vacate Yell conviction

By Chris Cooper - [email protected]

Commonwealth Attorney Gail Guiling is going to fight Circuit Judge Tyler Gill’s order granting motion to vacate judgment and conviction of Robert Yell. Guiling filed a notice of appeal on Jan. 23, 2017, with the Kentucky Court of Appeals. She also filed a designation of record to obtain certain portions of the video-tape in the Yell case. The Kentucky Attorney Generals Office will be handing the appeal.

“After consultation with the Appellate Division of the Attorney General’s Office, I decided to appeal Judge Gill’s ruling and filed the necessary documents to initiate the appeal process,” said Guiling.

In 2006, Yell was found guilty of arson first degree for intentionally setting his home on fire; manslaughter second degree for the death of his two-year-old son Cameron; assault first degree for the severe burns his one-year-old daughter Saralynn received, and being a persistent felony offender second degree. He was sentenced to 52 years in prison. Yell’s conviction was vacated recently by Judge Gill, who granted Yell a new trial based on a motion made by his attorneys claiming the forensic evidence used at the first trial was now known to be unreliable.

Yell fought his conviction from the beginning claiming his innocence. His conviction was upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2007 and two of his following motions were denied.

At his original trial, Yell testified he blacked out during the incident of the fire that took his son’s life and burned his daughter.

Judge Gill released an order Dec. 28, 2016, explaining his motion to vacate judgment and conviction. In Gill’s order he had Yell transported by the Department of Corrections to the Logan County Detention Center where his bond was set for $15,000. Yell, who had to pay 10 percent of the bond, is currently out of jail.

Gill’s order listed the background of events on the day of the fire on Sept. 11. 2004. They are as follows:

In 2004, Robert Yell was living in a mobile home in Russellville with his girlfriend April Carpenter, their two children, Saralynn Yell, 11 months old and Cameron Yell, two years old, and April’s two children from a prior relationship. On Sept. 11, 2004, Robert, April, Saralynn, Cameron and the other two children went to a neighbor’s house for the afternoon. The children played outside with the children of the neighbors, while Robert and April preceded to drink large amounts of alcohol and smoked marijuana.

April and Robert became very intoxicated, and at some point, became belligerent with the neighbor. Robert tried to get April to leave, but she did not want to go home. April and Robert began to argue. Sometime before 5 p.m. Robert, April and the four children went home to their mobile home. According to April, once they got back to the trailer, she and Robert got into an argument. April testified that she and Robert fought frequently because she had recently had an affair with another man when Robert was in jail. The fight escalated and Robert began choking her. When the fight began, April and Robert had lit cigarettes in their mouths. When it ended, neither April nor Robert could account for those cigarettes.

April ultimately left and went back to the neighbor’s house with her two children from a prior relationship, leaving Cameron and Saralynn at the trailer. At some point Robert left the trailer and went to a different neighbor’s home. April arrived at the neighbors house at about 7 p.m. After staying for 20 to 40 minutes, April went back to the mobile home to get her two youngest children. When April began walking back to the mobile home, she realized it was on fire.

Robert Yell reappeared at the scene in a drunken stupor while the fire was still burning and was arrested for disorderly conduct by local City of Russellville police officers. The written complaint reveals that the officers, for reasons not entirely clear, had already formed the opinion that the fire had been intentionally set by Robert Yell.

Kentucky State Police Detective David West, Deputy State Fire Marshall Allen Gregory, Deputy State Fire Marshall Jack Flowers and Firefighter and dog handler Buster Cannon were called to the scene in the days immediately after the fire and worked together on the investigation. No evidence of accelerant was found at the scene. Swabs of Robert Yell’s hands, clothing, and shoes yielded no evidence of accelerants.

The Criminal Complaint dated two days after the fire (Sept. 13, 2004) alleged that the KSP Detective (David West) and a State Fire Marshall (either Jack Flowers or Allen Gregory) had already concluded the fire was intentionally set. This was before laboratory testing of the suspected points of origin revealed lack of any accelerant at the scene or on the shoes and clothing of Robert Yell.

Kentucky State Police Detective David West, Deputy State Fire Marshall Allen Gregory, Deputy State Fire Marshall Jack Flowers and Dog handler Buster Cannon were the state’s expert witnesses at the trial in 2006. West, Gregory and Flowers each testified that the fire was certainly the result of multiple points of origin and therefore intentionally set.

At hearings that followed the third motion by Yell’s attorney’s, two experts in fire investigation, testified as to errors they felt were made in the original determination of the cause of the fire under modern fire investigation methodology.

There is also contention that the use of a canine’s findings of the presence of ignitable liquid without subsequent laboratory confirmation are now unreliable for use in court.

Former Commonwealth Attorney Charles Orange prosecuted Yell in 2006. Guiling will be prosecutor if a new trial is held.

By Chris Cooper

[email protected]

To contact Chris Cooper, email [email protected] or call 270-726-8394.

To contact Chris Cooper, email [email protected] or call 270-726-8394.

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