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Kentucky man sentenced in Pierce County for hiding a corpse

Clarence Hicks

ELLSWORTH — The Kentucky man who transported and dumped a box containing the body of a Prescott man is headed to prison.

Pierce County Circuit Court Judge Joe Boles on Monday sentenced Clarence M. Hicks to three years in prison and seven years on extended supervision. The sentence followed a plea agreement between Hicks, his attorney and prosecution.

Hicks was convicted on one count of hiding a corpse after entering a no-contest plea. The arrangement, known as an Alford plea, precludes defendants from admitting guilt, though they acknowledge there would be enough evidence for a jury to render a guilty verdict at trial.

Hicks appeared to momentarily forget the terms of the agreement when Boles asked him how he pleaded to the charges.

"Guilty," Hicks replied, before correcting himself and saying, "No contest."

Authorities charged Hicks nearly a year earlier in connection with the Rose Marie Kuehni case, in which the Prescott woman was accused of murdering her boyfriend Douglas Bailey on Nov. 22, 2015. Kuehni was convicted at trial of hiding a corpse, but was acquitted by the jury of first-degree intentional homicide after presenting a self-defense argument.

Prosecutors were poised to retry her on second-degree homicide after the jury was hung on that charge, but ultimately reached a conviction on aggravated battery through a plea deal. The presiding judge in that case sentenced Kuehni to one year in jail — which amounted to time she'd served in jail — and 10 years on probation.

Hicks' defense attorney, Lars Loberg, said his client's plea agreement was the result of hours of negotiations with the state, including offers that could have impacted the Kuehni trial. When called to testify last year at the trial, Hicks invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Boles said Pierce County Assistant District Attorney Rory O'Sullivan outlined some "pretty darned nefarious evidence of a crime" that Hicks either knew about or should have known.

Hicks, who chose not to speak during sentencing, could be seen shaking his head in disagreement as Boles reiterated the likelihood that he was aware he was transporting and disposing of a box containing a dead body in November 2015.

O'Sullivan summarized the evidence he would have presented at trial.

That included numerous text message exchanges, along with phone calls, between Kuehni and Hicks in the days leading up to, during and after Bailey's shooting death.

Most of the messages were deleted by Kuehni and Hicks, the prosecutor said, though cell tower data was able to chronicle the number of contacts made, and from which phones. Some text messages were preserved, including one from Kuehni that O'Sullivan read aloud, in which she told Hicks on Nov. 21, 2015, that "if the opportunity comes this weekend, I might take it."

On the day of Bailey's death, Hicks replied to a Kuehni text, telling her, "OK, sweetie, be careful. Call if you need to," O'Sullivan read aloud.

A string of texts the morning after the shooting included one O'Sullivan read from Hicks stating: "I know you had a bad night :)"

Texts and phone calls between the two were documented for four days while Bailey's body remained in a shed at the property he shared with Kuehni, prosecution said.

"When it matters most," O'Sullivan said, "there is a tremendous amount of contact."

That contact continued the day Kuehni drove from Prescott to Peoria, Ill. Hicks met her there and took possession of two boxes, one of which contained Bailey's body.

"There is no way that Mr. Hicks didn't know what was in that box," O'Sullivan said while Hicks shook his head in disagreement. "And if he didn't, he should have."

Defense attorney Lars Loberg did not dispute the bulk of what O'Sullivan presented, later saying the evidence likely would have been enough for a jury to convict his client.

He said the central question would be whether or not Hicks drove all the way from his home in Harrodsberg, Ky., to Illinois without asking or knowing about the box's contents.

"That is a difficult sell to a jury," Loberg said.

O'Sullivan noted during the hearing that the plea agreement called for Hicks to serve a harsher penalty than Kuehni, but noted that Hicks wasn't aware that what Kuehni had done might have been a justifiable homicide.

"He did all he could to help Ms. Kuehni get away with it," O'Sullivan said. "Mr. Hicks is going to have to take the medicine for the acts he did."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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