By Joe Lewis - Staff Writer
Dec. 13, 2013 — The manslaughter trial of Clifford Cathey, accused in the New Year's Day 2012 beating death of Heath Toney, took a surprising turn Friday when the state’s key witness recanted statements he gave earlier.
Bryan Rice testified instead that Cathey did not assault Toney on the night in question.
“I felt that Mr. Toney was a threat to me so I struck him. He staggered and fell partly in the grass and partly near a drain in the road,” said Rice.
He went on to swear he felt intimidated into testifying against Cathey as part of his plea agreement.
“They told me that if I didn’t testify that Mr. Cathey struck and kicked Mr. Toney that I would get six months added consecutive onto my sentence for contempt of court,” he said.
Asst. Commonwealth's Attorney Derrick Willis vehemently denied that Rice had been coerced to give false testimony.
“I never, ever once threatened Mr. Rice. We had a very pleasant conversation. I never said he had to testify that Mr. Cathey kicked Mr. Toney in the head. I asked him to tell the truth,” said Willis.
“I fight hard in court but I play by the rules,” he added.
Former KSP Det. Jim West and Det. Travis Steele of the Grayson Police Department each testified that Rice had given statements during interviews with them that Cathey had, in fact, kicked Toney twice in the head after he was knocked to the ground.
Circuit Judge Rebecca Phillips then adjourned the proceedings for the day, reminding the jury not to talk with anyone about the case.
She then stated that, barring unforeseen circumstances, she expects the trial proceedings to be concluded Tuesday. The matter would then be given over to the jury to render a final verdict.
The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Joe Lewis can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 286-4201.