Attorney Mark Turnamian's Statement
July 16, 2002
I recently read Alldredge's "Corporate Resolution" concerning the death of Ryan Lewis. As Ryan's Uncle, I was personally offended by this slick and self-serving press release dressed up as a so-called "Corporate Resolution." As an attorney, I was also offended by Alldredge's spin on its nolo contendere plea.
I am not licensed to practice law in West Virginia. But one does not have to be an expert on West Virginia law to know what has happened in Court. Plain and simple, Alldredge made a "plea bargain" with the Prosecutor.
Alldredge claims that "the Sate has acknowledged that L. Jay Mitchell and John W. White are completely innocent of and bear no responsibility in the death of Ryan Lewis." Oh really? The Tucker County Circuit Court accepted Alldredge's plea bargain in a Court Order that was posted on this website on June 12, 2002. Sure, Alldredge says that Mitchell and White are innocent; but if the State agreed with Alldredge's claim, then where in that Order, or anywhere else in the Court Record for that matter, has the State made such an acknowledgement?
And that is part of the problem with Alldredge's nolo contendere plea. Alldredge wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, Alldredge wants to continue to assert its innocence. At the same time, however, by its refusal to defend itself in Court, Alldredge has prevented an impartial group of West Virginia citizens from determining whether or not Alldredge, Mitchell and White bore any responsibility in Ryan's death.
As I understand West Virginia law, Alldredge's nolo contendere plea operates for the purpose of judgment and punishment, the same as a guilty plea. My question for the defendants, Mitchell and White is this: If you are so certain that you have "done nothing" to cause Ryan's death, then why are you unwilling to allow a jury to determine if that certainty is justified?
Alldredge, in defense of its refusal to let the issue of its innocence or guilt be determined by an impartial judge and jury, used high-minded words like "honor," "life long dedication to children," and "vital mission of helping families." But where is the "honor" in running away from the Courthouse, and refusing to let the legal system do its job of determining the defendants' guilt or innocence in Ryan's death? On the night before he died, Ryan intentionally cut himself with his knife. He went to the Alldredge Academy staff, showed them that he had intentionally cut his wrist, and he gave them his knife, explaining that he was afraid that he would hurt himself further if the knife was not taken away from him. Alldredge was already on notice from Ryan's application to the school that he was at risk for suicide. How devoted were Alldredge and its staff to their "vital mission of helping families," when they didn't even bother to call Ryan's family when he expressed suicidal thoughts and actions the day before he took his own life? And where was the defendants' "life long dedication to children" when, in the hours before Ryan died, Alldredge's staff chose to ignore this fourteen year old child's cry for help, and didn't even bother to talk to Ryan about his suicidal thoughts and impulses?
In their hearts, and before God, Mitchell and White know whether or not they contributed to Ryan's death. They will have to live with what they did, or did not do, for the rest of their lives. No easy plea of nolo contendere and no sanctimonious "Corporate Resolution" can relieve them of that burden.