A newly-discovered recording of a jailhouse telephone call between Launden Luckett and a Kokomo Police Department detective cast doubt on claims made by witnesses and a former local prosecutor, James Fleming, who faces potential disciplinary action for possibly making illegal witness payments in multiple 2010 murder trials.
Last week both the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission and former Howard County Prosecutor James Fleming’s defense filed their final findings and conclusions in disciplinary proceedings against the former prosecutor. In those, the commission elaborated on a recently-unearthed recording of a telephone call between the case’s central figure, murder-trial witness Launden Luckett, and the KPD detective who worked the case Luckett was utilized in. That phone call, claimed the commission, showed that a portion of Fleming’s defense was “demonstrably false and not credible.”
Two factors remain central to the case against Fleming, which centers on the 2010 murder trials of Abby Rethlake, during which gang-member Luckett served as a primary witness. Those are whether Luckett, who after serving as the primary witness in trials received the balance of a $10,000 reward fund established in the murder victim’s memory, was told prior to testifying he would receive the reward money in exchange for his testimony.
The second factor was if the utilization of the reward fund to move his then-girlfriend Cecily Dickey prior to the trials was known to Luckett. The use of this money would be illegal if the witness knew about the payments prior to the trials and the defendants in the cases were never made aware of the incentives, which they were not. Luckett claimed in depositions for the disciplinary complaint and in an interview with the Perspective that he was told upfront by Fleming and those working the case that he would receive the funding in exchange for his testimony, which Fleming’s defense has refuted.
In May, a hearing convened where the commission and Fleming’s attorney presented their arguments. A primary argument by Fleming’s team was that Luckett never knew Dickey was to be moved due to fears for her safety attributed to Luckett’s decision to testify against fellow gang members who participated in the deadly shooting he witnessed and partook in.
Financial records indicated nearly $3,000 from the reward fund was utilized by Fleming to move Dickey from her apartment in Illinois prior to the trials. Fleming and KPD Detective Mike Banush, the lead detective for the cases in question, testified during the May hearing that Luckett never was made aware of the aim to move Dickey prior to the trials, and as such, the move couldn’t serve as an inducement for his testimony.
However, the commission believed the recorded call, discovered after the May hearing but took place prior to the trials, between Luckett and Banush showed the detective and Fleming’s testimony was false.
“Although [Fleming], Banush, and (Amy) Smith testified Luckett was not aware of payments used to move his girlfriend. The transcript of the May 27, 2010 recording of a jail conversation between Luckett and Banush make (Fleming’s), Smith’s, and Banush’s testimony demonstrably false and not credible,” wrote the commission in court documents.
Furthermore, the commission argued that the phone call made it clear Luckett was aware of the reward funds he eventually would receive. He received money from the reward fund during his ensuing incarceration at the Department of Corrections and what remained of the funding after his release in March 2015. What was made public at the time of the 2010 trials was the fact that Luckett was to receive a plea deal in trade for his cooperation. Instead of murder-related charges he pleaded guilty to aggravated battery charges and received a 15-year sentence, which was reduced due to good time credit.
Shortly after his release from prison, Luckett allegedly fatally stabbed Dickey in Illinois, and that case still is pending.
Fleming’s defense primarily pitted the word of Luckett against that of Banush and the former prosecutor.
While Luckett said in a deposition that he knew from the onset of his plea agreement that he would receive the reward funding, Fleming’s team argued otherwise and maintained that the reward money was granted to Luckett for his role in convicting those involved in the murder after the conclusion of the trials.
In their final findings and conclusions, Fleming’s defense revisited testimony given during the May hearing, reiterating points made by Banush on the stand.
At the time, Banush said, “I mean, he lied through his teeth about everything. I mean, I was shocked because, personally, I don’t get fooled by people like Launden Luckett. I’m telling, you this guy is a con artist, and he is a very good one.”
Fleming’s defense wrote, “Nothing in Mr. Luckett’s testimony indicates that authorizing funds to move Ms. Dickey ‘enticed’ or ‘persuaded’ him to testify. In fact, at first during his testimony, Mr. Luckett could not even remember whether he testified before or after Ms. Dickey was moved.”
Furthermore, the defense also argued that the newly-discovered phone call didn’t show Dickey’s move was an inducement.
“Although the phone call in [the call transcript] was inconsistent with a small portion of Detective Banush’s final hearing testimony, nothing in [the call transcript] showed that payment for Ms. Dickey’s move induced Mr. Luckett’s testimony,” read the Fleming team’s court filing.
In terms of the eventual payment to Luckett, the defense also attacked the former witness’ credibility.
“Mr. Fleming, a formerly-elected prosecutor with almost 50 years in the practice of law and who has no disciplinary history, has denied this allegation,” read the filing from Fleming’s attorney. “Because of this denial … the commission must prove its allegation by clear and convincing evidence. Because Mr. Luckett’s testimony is the only source of this evidence against Mr. Fleming, for the Commission to prove its allegations regarding the reward money, Mr. Luckett’s testimony has to be credible by clear and convincing evidence. However, Mr. Luckett’s testimony lacks credibility and does not provide proof by clear and convincing evidence.”
The disciplinary commission has asked the case’s hearing officer to suspend Fleming’s law license with no automatic reinstatement. With the final filings submitted, the case’s hearing officer will next rule on both side’s arguments and then forward his ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court for a final verdict.
In the case, Fleming faces two counts of violation of the Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct.