By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The case involving Benjamin Cody Long will continue on April 28, and the defense looks to go to trial.
Thursday morning (Feb. 25) marked the latest pre-trial date regarding the cyberattack of December 2019. Last week, the tribal prosecutors of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voluntarily dismissed two felony charges – those being the charges presented at the initial detention hearing the week of the cyberattack. There are still seven charges against Long, all of which are counts for ‘misuse of Tribal property or money.’ Each of these possesses a maximum jail time of three years.
Brent Smith, Long’s defense attorney, presented four motions to Judge Sharon Barrett at Thursday’s hearing. The motions were as follows:
- To return seized property.
- To review the release order.
- To release the defendant from the May 28, 2020 conditions of release.
- To establish a peremptory setting for a formal trial date.
The tribal prosecutors are Cody White and Shelli Buckner.
The motion to return seized property received no objection from tribal prosecutors. However, White said the ability to return that property depends on the investigator responsible for tracking where the evidence has been sent. Judge Barrett made an order stating that this information should be provided to the defense ‘as soon as practicable.’
A significant issue that disrupted this hearing was the motion to establish a peremptory setting for a formal trial date. Smith was presenting his client’s right to a speedy trial. The defense has been offered a plea which they are rejecting. That only leaves the options of a trial or for the charges to be dismissed. The defense wished to set a trial date of March 22.
However, the Tribal Information Technology Department has yet to fix the jury summons program. This system was affected by the December 2019 cyberattack. Smith reported that the Clerk of Court has said that they will be meeting with the IT department ‘very soon’ to resolve this issue. Currently, the Tribal Court cannot perform a jury trial because of these issues.
The prosecutors said they do not necessarily have an objection to this motion but that the problems afflicting the Court make it impossible to do so.
The Tribe also had no objection to the motions to review the release order or to release the defendant from the previous conditions. However, Judge Barrett requested to hear from both parties before accepting the motions and making an order.
Smith opened by stating the conditions for release were tied to the two charges that have now been dismissed and that the remaining charges are unrelated. He argued with that being the case, there was ample reason to reassess the conditions for release.
Further, he addressed the reasons that Long was placed under house arrest following his release from detainment on May 28, 2020. He said that his client was by no means a flight risk – that Long had a large family, many of whom were present and more who wished to be, that would be happy to testify to the Court. He vowed that his client would make every court date without issue.
Smith continued by saying that Long was not a risk to the community. He stated that Bill Travitz, Tribal IT, has confirmed that the network is secure. He also said that the restrictions on Long are prohibiting his ability to communicate with essential parties with the case.
Tribal prosecutors responded by restating that they had no objection to the motion. White said that any attempt to tamper with the case in any way would lead to more charges. White said there was no evidence to dispute what was presented regarding Long being either a flight risk or a risk to the community.
Judge Barrett deemed there was sufficient information to accept the motion, modifying the conditions so that Long could be released on an unsecured bond of $25,000.
Given that there are still questions regarding the Court’s ability to hold a jury trial, Smith said that he wished to re-notice the defense’s motion to establish a peremptory setting until the Clerk of Court meets with Tribal IT.
Judge Barrett accepted a continued pre-trial date for April 28 to revisit the issue. It is at this time that a trial date could be set.