LOGAN — The preliminary hearing for Hot Cup owner Michael Cline, who is behind bars on sexual assault and child pornography charges, was held inside Logan County Magistrate Court on Feb. 21, where Magistrate Joe Mendez found probable cause to refer his charges to the Grand Jury for trial.
During the hearing, which lasted nearly two hours, Logan County Prosecuting Attorney David Wandling and Cline’s defense attorney, Matt Hatfield of Madison-based law firm Hatfield & Hatfield P.L.L.C., cross-examined the evidence presented in Cline’s case. Cline has three separate criminal complaints filed against him.
Trooper T.D. Boggs of the Logan detachment of the West Virginia State Police, the lead investigating officer in the case, was called to the stand to testify as a witness.
For the first criminal complaint, for which Cline is charged with second degree sexual assault and distribution and exhibition of obscene material depicting a minor, Boggs stated that he spoke with the victim, identified by initials A.K., for approximately an hour and 20 minutes, obtaining both a recorded statement and body camera footage of the interview.
Hatfield objected to the allegations presented in the complaint as hearsay. Boggs said roughly 100 photos and 30 videos depicting A.K. — some that were timestamped when she was a minor under age 18 — were found during a forensic investigation of her phone, which was conducted by Jeremy Thompson of the South Charleston detachment of the WVSP.
Boggs said he believed the content was sent at the direction of Cline. He added that parts of the investigation are still ongoing.
Hatfield argued that the entire situation started with a Facebook post and noted that the complaint states that Cline and A.K. dated for approximately four years from November 2015 until October 2019.
“Should she have gone to Facebook or should she have gone to police?” Hatfield asked.
“I can’t tell you what she should do,” Boggs responded. “I mean, that’s her judgement call, not mine. You know what I mean? She’s the victim. I’m not going to sit there and judge her.”
Hatfield noted that age of consent in West Virginia is 16 years old and asked Boggs if A.K. was ever, at any point, under 16. Wandling said the age of consent law does not apply to lewd electronic images.
“Mr. Hatfield makes a good argument,” Wandling said. “If I was defending Mr. Cline, I would say the same thing, too, that the age of consent in West Virginia is 16 years of age. The problem with that is two things — regarding sexual assault, it requires consent. The allegation here, which is uncontested today, is that there were times that she did not consent to having sex with Mr. Cline and he physically assaulted her to get her to have sex. Secondly, the age of consent doesn’t apply to electronic images … there is no age of consent for soliciting and distributing sexually explicit images. For each one of those images, for each that occurred, for each one of those videos that occurred, if she was under 18 years of age, it’s irrelevant how old she was. She was a minor.”
Hatfield asked Boggs if A.K. ever reported any sexual assaults prior to now or received any medical treatment for injuries. Boggs responded that he is not aware of her doing so.
Boggs was also asked by Hatfield if he was aware of any other sexual assault cases in which the victim dated the accused for a period of four years. Boggs said he was not aware of another.
“It’s unheard of for someone to wait four years and come forward and say, ‘Oh yeah, this happened to me four years ago,’” Hatfield said. “Had it not been in the age of social media, that would be like if I walked into the police station and said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to make a complaint — my house was broken into four years ago.’ I’m going to be told that you should have told the police four years ago, we’re sorry. That’s what I would be told. This case is no different.”
For the second criminal complaint, for which Cline is charged with another count of distribution and exhibition of obscene material depicting a minor over lewd images exchanged with a victim identified by initials K.L., Boggs said he inherited the case from another Trooper. The investigation into that particular case, according to the criminal complaint, began Aug. 11, 2020, when police received a tip from the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) database.
Boggs explained that the case made its way into the ICAC database after Facebook had flagged messages for possible images depicting child pornography. According to Facebook messages obtained by a search warrant, K.L. sent lewd photos of herself to Cline in November 2018. She turned 18 in January 2019.
When asked by Wandling why the case did not result in a charge sooner, Boggs explained that police were still trying to obtain a statement from K.L. and were also trying to determine if Cline knew she was 17 years old at the time. He said that in a January 2023 meeting with K.L. and her mother, she was able to present an Instagram message from Cline dated Jan. 14, 2019 in which he wished her a happy 18th birthday, which provided the evidence needed to show that Cline knew of her age.
Boggs said the case is still open and search warrants have been sent to both Facebook and Instagram.
The original criminal complaint for the charge states that police were able to locate the messages from K.L.’s Facebook account, but not from Cline’s. Hatfield argued that the evidence is questionable due to that statement.
“It’s not uncontested (evidence),” Hatfield said. “It’s not even on his account.”
For the third criminal complaint, Cline is charged with first degree sexual assault over accusations from a victim identified by initials L.M. According to the complaint, L.M. alleges Cline performed sexual acts on her in the restroom of the former On-Cue music store at the old Rita Mall sometime in the spring of 2001.
L.M. alleges in the complaint that she was only 11 years old when the incident occurred.
Hatfield argued that the state statute for first degree sexual assault was amended in 2006 and therefore, Cline would have to be charged with the one that was active in 2001 instead. Hatfield said the 2001 statute requires the victim to be 11 years old or less, and therefore, depending on her actual age when it happened, the charge would not apply, rendering the criminal complaint defective.
Later in the hearing, Hatfield requested a five-minute recess for Boggs to determine the victim’s date of birth. When the hearing resumed, Boggs returned with a birthdate in the spring of 1990, meaning she could have been either 10 or 11 years old at the time.
Boggs noted that the victim was unable to recall the actual date of the incident and was only able to recall spring 2001. As a result, Boggs listed the dates March 1 through June 30, 2001 on the complaint.
The complaint states the victim “knew (Cline) was 31 years old and married at the time.” Hatfield argued that Cline, whose birthday is listed as May 5, 1975, could have only been “at best” 26 years old.
“In 2001, if he was born in 1975, how could he be 31 years old as alleged by this victim?” Hatfield asked.
“I’m just going off what she said,” Boggs said. “She may not recall his actual age. I can’t sit there and press her for the evidence because it happened with instant messenger and stuff. She told me it was through instant messenger where she was communicating with him. This was back in the AOL days. We’re talking about 2001.”
The complaint also states that L.M. advised in her statement to police that Cline was a fan of the Rob Zombie films “House of 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects” and that he “wanted to perform the same rape scene” from both films on the victim. Hatfield argued that Cline could not have done so, as “House of 1,000 Corpses” was released in 2003 and “The Devil’s Rejects” was released in 2005.
“How could he view a movie in 2001 that didn’t even come out until 2003?” Hatfield asked.
“That’s just the statement she gave me,” Boggs responded.
“So, that would be wrong as well?” Hatfield asked.
“On her end, yes,” Boggs responded.
“OK, how could he review a movie that didn’t come out until 2005?” Hatfield asked.
“I don’t know,” Boggs responded. “You’ll have to ask her. That’s just what she advised.”
Hatfield also asked if he ever subpoenaed employment records from the On-Cue store. Boggs said he isn’t sure if that can even be done so at this point.
On-Cue, which was owned by The Musicland Group, Inc., was renamed to Sam Goody in April 2002, and most Sam Goody stores were closed in 2006. The Lyburn On-Cue, which was store #6097, was one of six locations in West Virginia. According to Musiclandgroup.com, which has information about the company’s stores, the Lyburn location was never renamed to Sam Goody, meaning the On-Cue store there likely closed sometime before April 2002.
After Boggs returned with L.M.’s date of birth, Wandling said that it is probable that the crime actually occurred before she turned 11 years-old. Hatfield argued that L.M. only came forward following the initial social media posts made against Cline.
“Look at the message the state is asking you to send — that someone waits a quarter century, essentially, and comes forward because of social media banter and says, ‘Oh yeah, he raped me, too,’ 22 years ago,” Hatfield said. “There is no evidence. He doesn’t have any evidence that any of this occurred and if we’re going on what the victim said, she’s lied. I mean, she has lied. There’s no other way to go about it. She was not truthful with the officer, or she’s completely confused on the facts, which makes no difference because the court should not accept what she said.”
Wandling described sexual assault victims waiting years to come forward as “routine behavior.”
“It’s not unheard of,” Wandling said. “It’s routine in cases of sexual assault. Having prosecuted hundreds of them over the years, this is perfectly normal behavior. It’s also perfectly normal behavior for an 11-year-old, who is traumatized because a grown man performed oral sex on her, to not remember all of the details.”
The hearing then wrapped up with the court taking up a request by Cline’s defense to reduce his bond. Following his arrest on Feb. 9, Cline has been behind bars at Southwestern Regional Jail on a $500,000 cash only bond. The bond was given by Magistrate Dwight Williamson, who acted on recommendation by Wandling.
Hatfield argued that the bond is unreasonable and rare in its amount. He said that no evidence suggests Cline is a flight risk, as he peacefully surrendered to arrest at the Hot Cup location and is a lifelong resident of southern West Virginia.
Magistrate Joe Mendez denied the bond request motion and referred all of Cline’s charges to the Grand Jury to consider for future indictment. Cline has since filed another bond reduction motion, which will be held in front of Circuit Judge Joshua Butcher, who has been assigned Cline’s case. A bond reduction hearing is scheduled to be held at 9 a.m. on Friday.