The involuntary manslaughter case of a Missouri trooper is now headed to a new judge, the third one in less than a year.
During a routine hearing Monday morning to reschedule the May trial, Morgan County Circuit Judge Stan Moore recused himself. It isn’t clear why he took the action. Moore said he could not comment.
His recusal means the Missouri Supreme Court will appoint a new judge and the Brandon Ellingson drowning case will be delayed again.
Ellingson drowned in handcuffs on May 31, 2014, at the Lake of the Ozarks while in the custody of Trooper Anthony Piercy.
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Ellingson’s father, Craig Ellingson, expressed frustration in a telephone interview Monday.
“Why didn’t the judge do this six months ago?” he said. “Why couldn’t he give a reason when he was appointed?”
In December, a year after the family filed an open-records lawsuit as well as a civil lawsuit, a special prosecutor charged Piercy with involuntary manslaughter. The charge against Piercy is a Class C felony carrying a punishment of up to seven years in prison, up to a year in the county jail, a $5,000 fine or some combination.
Piercy arrested Ellingson on May 31, 2014, for suspicion of boating while intoxicated on the Lake of the Ozarks, and they headed to a field office for a sobriety test, traveling at speeds up to 46 mph. Ellingson ended up in the water, and the life vest — which witnesses say Piercy didn’t properly secure on Ellingson — soon came off. The trooper eventually jumped in to try to save Ellingson but couldn’t.
Moore had the case initially, but that assignment occurred because of a “scheduling error,” according to an online database of court activity. The case was transferred in late February to Judge Kenneth Hayden, who is from Versailles — a town of 2,500 residents — where Piercy was on the school board.
Questions arose about how well Hayden and Piercy may know each other and the close relationships that form in a small community. Within four days of Hayden’s receiving the case, special prosecutor William Camm Seay filed a motion for change of judge.
The case was back in Moore’s hands by the end of May. He and Hayden are the only judges in the 26th Circuit.
Seay said he was surprised by Moore’s recusal. He expected to have a new trial date set during the hearing, which Piercy attended.
Now Seay waits to hear whom the Supreme Court will appoint to hear the case.
“It’ll be from circuits away,” Seay said.