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The Charleston Gazette-Mail published this editorial on June 28:

The public might never know what occurred leading up to the death of former Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, let alone why it happened.

All anyone can say with absolute certainty is that Crum was eating lunch in his cruiser one day in April 2013, when he was shot and killed. Sheriff’s deputies later apprehended Tennis Maynard following a chase in which Maynard, accused of pointing a gun at a deputy, suffered a gunshot wound.

Maynard, now in his mid-40s, was in court earlier this month, more than eight years after he was charged with murder in relation to Crum’s death. Again, a judge found Maynard incompetent to stand trial, and ordered him to live the rest of his life in a mental health facility.

Maynard’s competency has been at the heart of this case from the beginning. At various points in the intervening years, a trial has seemed likely, with Maynard supposedly “returned to competency” and on the docket as recently as 2018. But each time Maynard has ultimately been ruled incompetent and remanded to the custody of a mental health facility.

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to know what the core issue is, because competency hearings are almost always conducted behind closed doors, and the relevant details are sealed for the defendant’s privacy. A broad view of the legal standard for competency generally has to do with whether a defendant fully comprehends the nature of the charges against them and can lucidly communicate with their attorney. The numbers fluctuate from year to year, but, out of all of the cases in which a competency hearing is ordered, only a small percentage of defendants are ruled incompetent, and many eventually return to competency.

So Maynard’s case is, indeed, a rarity.

Crum’s death did knock over an anthill of corruption in Mingo County, when it was alleged a judge, county commissioner and prosecutor tried to silence a sign-maker to whom Crum owed $3,000 after one of Crum’s deputies arrested the man on a drug charge. Crum’s family has denied the former sheriff was involved.

After the man was arrested, public officials convinced him to switch attorneys so Crum’s potential conflict of interest would not come up in court, and so the defendant would stop communicating with the FBI. The carrot offered to the defendant was a lighter sentence from the judge. That judge, Michael Thornsbury, ended up pleading guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy against civil rights. Thornsbury served roughly four years in prison. The prosecutor, Michael Sparks, was sentenced to a year on a misdemeanor. No charges were brought against the county commissioner.

While it’s certainly important all of that came to light, it’s also tragic that Crum’s death was the catalyst, when so much remains unresolved concerning the shooting.

Friends and family of victims of violent crime understandably want to know why a crime occurred and see justice served. The public usually wants to know, too, with a hefty dose of morbid curiosity driving their interest. The shooting death of a public official like a sheriff is particularly loaded with a certain mixture of natural outrage and macabre fascination.

It seems more and more unlikely, however, that there will be any answers offering closure in this case.

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