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Court overturns 5-year sentence for publisher

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KENTUCKY -- The Kentucky Court of Appeals in Frankfort reversed a five-year sentence imposed on the publisher of a small…

KENTUCKY — The Kentucky Court of Appeals in Frankfort reversed a five-year sentence imposed on the publisher of a small newspaper who was convicted of using dealer license plates on his car to avoid automobile taxes and registration fees. In an opinion published in late August, the court upheld the conviction but remanded the case to the circuit court for resentencing.

Robert Harrell, publisher of Tell It Like It Is, an irregularly published tabloid based in Henderson, has asked the court for a rehearing.

“We are exposing things that are detrimental to the country,” said Harrell, who asserted that local officials have been upset with the content of his newspaper, which mixes stories on AIDS cures, IRS plots and government control of the weather with local recipes and home-spun poetry.

The appeals court ruled that the Calloway County Circuit Court judge gave the jury improper instructions for sentencing by not telling them that probation was an option and that the prosecutor made “inflammatory and prejudicial” remarks.

A portion of the trial transcript included in the opinion quotes the prosecutor as saying “it’s a shame that a paper like yours doesn’t know how to print the truth.”

In a transcript of closing arguments, the prosecutor stated that: “It’s been very tempting for me for months to become very personal about this case because of things that have been printed about me which, frankly, are not true. And I am sure that he would love me to do that.”

The case began in early 1990, when a local police officer cited Harrell’s daughter for driving a 1980 Mercury Cougar with an improper temporary license tag. In early June 1990, the officer saw Harrell driving the car with a dealer’s tag. Two months later, a Calloway County grand jury indicted Harrell on charges of procuring a dealer’s plate with intent to evade taxes. He was convicted in November 1991 and received the maximum five- year sentence.

(Harrell v. Commonwealth)