A Butler County businessman accused of assaulting his wife was scheduled to be back Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens’ courtroom today, but a series of recusals has pushed the case to another judge.
Jeffery Couch, 52, of West Chester Twp., was arrested during the early-morning hours of March 2, 2019 at his Tamarron Drive home.
Court documents say West Chester police allege Couch “did knowingly cause serious physical harm to Shelley Couch” when he punched his wife in the face “multiple times and slammed her head onto a paved driveway multiple times.” He is charged with felonious assault, attempted felonious assault and misdemeanor domestic violence
The case was taken directly to a grand jury by Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser, who said he wanted to make sure there was transparency in the case of the well-known businessman. Couch is the owner of Jeff Couch’s RV Nation in Trenton.
Couch, who is free on $16,000 bond, was last in court in September. A trial was set to begin Sept. 23 but was cancelled.
On Dec. 16, Stephens recused himself from the case, and three other common pleas judges - Charles Pater, Noah Powers II and Keith Spaeth - did the same between Dec. 19 and Jan. 9.
The judges gave no reasons for the recusals and legally do not have to do so.
Spaeth had no comment when asked by the Journal-News for the reason. Pater said he knows the victim’s family well and did not feel it was proper for him to preside over the case. Powers and Stephens could not be reached for comment.
Judge Michael Oster is now assigned to the case and has scheduled a pre-trial conference for today.
Couch’s attorney, R. Scott Croswell III, and Gmoser said the series of recusals are a mystery to them.
“It is unusual,” said Croswell. “Nobody has briefed me on it. I just get the entries there is a recusal.”
“Of course it is unusual, but unusual things can happen in any case,” Gmoser said. “But I am sure all the judges had a good reason for recusal.”
Last summer, Croswell filed a motion to exclude some statements from the witnesses at trial, including the alleged victim, Shelley Couch, police and medical personnel, arguing they were hearsay.
A neighbor recorded audio of the alleged incident on her cell phone, according to court documents.
“(The neighbor) heard what she described as an argument close in time to the alleged assault. She was with a friend and heard the argument through her bedroom window. She had the good sense to record the voices she heard by her cell phone and recognized the voices she heard as her neighbors, defendant Jeffrey Couch and Shelley Couch, the alleged victim,” Gmoser wrote in the response to the defense motion.
“In addition to her recollection and impression of the words spoken, on the recording the defendant is clearly heard saying ‘(expletive) you. Go call the cops. Let’s go inside first.’ Shelley Couch responds yelling, ‘help,’ and is then heard with a shrieking scream.”
Three additional witnesses recounted essentially the same event on the night of the assault, Gmoser said in the court document.
“Shelley Couch appeared at the … residence where these witnesses were located and at the time consistent with the statement of (the neighbor who made the recording). Ms. Couch was literally covered in blood … claimed in detail that she was beaten by the defendant, was in fear for her life, extremely upset and without shoes in the dead of winter.”
While the defense argued the statements of Shelley Couch are hearsay and “highly prejudicial,” pointing her possible level of intoxication, the prosecution argued they should be permitted under rules of evidence that permit “excited utterances.”
Stephens ruled the statements and audio, along with others witness statements, would be permitted at trial
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.