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Witness's past prompts delay in murder-plot trial

By Gail Gibson
South-Central Kentucky Bureau

LONDON -- The strange murder-for-hire trial of Chuck Hayes got even stranger yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman abruptly put the trial on hold after attorneys learned that a key prosecution witness has spent a year in a psychiatric hospital, pleaded guilty to a felony crime that doesn't appear on his FBI rap sheet and once was a target in an alleged hit-man scheme in Tennessee.

Neither side had indicated it knew that history of Lawrence W. Myers -- the free-lance writer who told the FBI that Hayes wanted Hayes' son killed -- until contacted Wednesday by a reporter from Morristown, Tenn., where Myers once worked.

Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith, who represents Hayes, asked for a mistrial, saying the background sheet on Myers was "intentionally incomplete" as part of an ongoing conspiracy to frame Hayes.

But Coffman overruled the motion for a mistrial, saying the new information appeared to be favorable to Hayes' case.

Coffman did put the trial on hold until Jan. 27 so attorneys could adjust their cases.

It was the latest twist in an already unusual case. Prosecutors charge that Hayes, 61, arranged to pay an undercover FBI agent $5,000 to kill his son, John Anthony Hayes. The two men are involved in a bitter legal fight over the estate of Chuck Hayes' mother.

But Hayes, who claims to be an ex-CIA agent and who has challenged the government on other issues, says the case against him was set up to shut him up.

Hayes says he thinks that Myers was working for the government when he came to Kentucky to write a flattering profile of Hayes for the magazine Media Bypass, then privately told FBI agents that Hayes was looking for someone to kill his son.

When Myers testified against Hayes on Tuesday, he was questioned about only one prior conviction -- a case in North Carolina where he left a waffle house without paying for his meal.

The new information is far more serious.

According to police and court documents from California, Myers was charged with extortion in California's Alameda County in 1985 after he repeatedly threatened to expose a man as a homosexual and child abuser if he didn't give Myers $5,000.

Described as unstable

Investigators at the time described Myers as mentally unstable. In one conversation with police in August 1985, Myers said he needed the $5,000 to "finance his paramilitary operations against drug dealers and homosexuals," records show.

A month earlier, when police responded to a complaint that Myers had threatened to kill himself and others, he talked about bringing in a squad of Green Berets to kill drug dealers in the area.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Hatfield said his office and FBI agents confirmed late Wednesday that Myers was eventually committed to a psychiatric hospital and later pleaded guilty to attempted grand theft in the extortion case.

The charge could have been dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor, but Myers never returned to court, records show. Hatfield said that might be why the conviction didn't show up on the FBI rap sheet.

Trouble followed Myers to Morristown, Tenn., where he worked as a reporter in 1993, according to Bob Moore, the Morristown Citizen Tribune reporter who contacted officials in Kentucky on Wednesday.

In 1993, a Morristown city councilman allegedly plotted to kill Myers after he wrote a series of inflammatory articles about the politician, Moore said. The sensational case even made the television tabloid program "Hard Copy."

Investigators found old case

And when it went to trial, Myers surprised courtroom watchers by testifying for the councilman, Moore said.

"People's mouths dropped open when he flipped like that," Moore said.

Angry investigators, and others upset by what they considered to be Myers' "yellow journalism," later uncovered the California case along with some of Myers' other writings: three books about bomb-making techniques, including the 1990 text Smart Bombs: Improvised Sensory Detonation Techniques and Advanced Weapons Systems.

Moore said he contacted attorneys in Kentucky after spotting Myers' name in news reports about the Hayes trial. He said he wanted to make sure officials knew Myers' full background.

Hayes yesterday seemed pleased by the development. He was grinning in court and asked Coffman whether he could hold a news conference at the London jail.

The judge turned down that request as well as another request for bond. Hayes has been jailed since his Oct. 22 arrest.

Blown out of proportion?

Galbraith said the new information about Myers had sparked a flurry of overnight phone calls and led to an early-morning meeting of high-ranking Justice Department officials in Washington. He declined to identify who was at the alleged meeting.

Hatfield said in court that the new information about Myers was being "blown out of proportion" because little of what has been learned could be brought out in the trial.

"It looks bad, and it sounds bad, but when you look at if from an evidentiary standpoint, what actually could be introduced as evidence is very limited," Hatfield said.

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January 17, 1997
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