ROMNEY — Jeremiah Mongold’s conviction in the 2004 death of his step-daughter was vacated Thursday and Judge Charles Parsons ordered the Shanks man released from Denmar Prison to the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail, setting bail at $75,000.
A May 17 hearing will determine where the case proceeds from here.
Eleven years after the conviction and 20 days after a habeas corpus hearing, Parsons ruled that Mongold received trial counsel so ineffective from Romney attorney Lawrence Sherman that it led to the defendant’s conviction.
“… all these failures contribute to the firm conclusion that counsel’s performance was deficient under an objective standard of reasonableness, and that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different,” Parsons summed up near the end of his 13-page order.
Sherman pointed out that Parsons noted in his order that Sherman has a good reputation as a trial attorney.
"I would also say during the course of my career, I believe I’ve had the most acquittals, the most not-guilty verdicts of jury trials in Hampshire County, Sherman said.
He spoke of the difficulty of trying shaken impact cases that one of Mongold's expert witnesses alluded to on April 15.
Valena Beety of the West Virginia Innocence Project, which is representing Mongold, said his family was working on raising the bail money.
"We are glad to see the system is finally working for Jeremiah and for justice," added attorney Melissa Giggenbach of the Innocence Project.
The attorneys spent until 6:30 p.m. April 15 laying out claims that Sherman had made at least a pair of egregious errors in defending Mongold at his May 2005 trial.
First, they said Sherman should not have brought up Mongold’s character in the trial because it opened the door for then-Prosecutor Steve Moreland to introduce evidence of a prior incident of child abuse and a juvenile incident of violence.
Second, the Morgantown attorneys argued that Sherman should have moved for a mistrial during jury deliberations. Barely an hour into deliberations, the foreperson of the jury sent a letter to Judge Donald H. Cookman stating that 11 of the jurors believed the 12th incapable of rendering a fair verdict. Had a mistrial been moved, Cookman would have had to grant it because the alternates had already been dismissed.
Instead, Sherman told Mongold and his father, the defense had a “win-win” situation with Jeremiah prevailing if the 12th juror held out against a conviction or having grounds for a mistrial later. But by passing on the request for a mistrial before the verdict, Sherman by law had waived the right to ask for one later.
Parsons on Thursday agreed with both assertions. The state has a 2-fold standard for ruling counsel constitutionally ineffective. First, it must be deficient under an objective standard of reasonableness. If that occurs, then the probability must exist that the outcome would have been different.
Parsons’ order made moot a 2nd hearing in June in which both the Innocence Project and Prosecutor Dan James, representing Denmar Warden Mark Williamson, were prepared to bring in medical experts to argue the science of Hannah Williams’ death.
Sherman is the attorney Mongold and his family hired at a cost somewhere north of $25,000 to defend the 20-year-old when he was charged with a count of child abuse resulting in death after his 2-year-old stepdaughter Hannah Williams died in Mongold’s care in May 2004.
Mongold was tried and quickly convicted in March 2005, sentenced on his 21st birthday to the maximum 40 years in prison by Judge Donald H. Cookman.
The state supreme court turned down Mongold's appeal, also presented by Sherman, in May 2007 and within a year the Rio native began seeking a writ of habeas corpus, a legal procedure that demands the state — in this case the warden at Denmar Prison — show cause why Mongold is being held.
A new attorney, Royce Saville, was appointed to assist the habeas motion, but the case inexplicably stalled out in February 2010 until it was taken over by the Innocence Project in 2014