Christopher D. Chiles
It was November 1989.
Lyle McGinnis was a well-known and very wealthy CPA in Huntington, West
Virginia, an attractive small city (51,000) in the Ohio River Valley.
Christopher D. (Chris) Chiles was a 33-year-old assistant prosecuting
attorney of Cabell County, which encompasses Huntington.
Their lives were to intersect in a courtroom experience that neither will forget.
Shortly after 5 p.m. on November 29, 1989, the body of McGinnis's wife,
Kathy, was discovered behind a shopping center in St. Albans, about 40 miles east of Huntington. She
had been strangled with a telephone cord and a plastic bag had been placed over her head. An
investigation indicated she had been murdered in the bedroom of her home. The next day, McGinnis
was discovered beside his wrecked Jeep in Carter County, Kentucky, about 40 miles west of Huntington,
where the vehicle had veered off the road and plunged down a steep embankment.
McGinnis told investigators that he and his wife had been abducted from their home by three intruders.
He said he was later bound and put into his Jeep with two of his abductors and forced to swallow a white
powdery substance, after which he lost consciousness. When he awoke the following morning, he said
he was tortured and then taken into the countryside and tied to the Jeep's front seat, while one of the
abductors placed a heavy object on the gas pedal. His story didn't add up. Meanwhile, investigators
soon learned that McGinnis was also under investigation for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars from
a land company, as well as for arson, tax evasion and mail fraud. Each time state tax department
officials sought to arrange a meeting with him, McGinnis put it off by saying he had "a tragic emergency."
After his wife's body was found, McGinnis was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and
embezzlement. Investigators believed that there was a connection between the murder and the fact that
McGinnis was facing prosecution on charges of embezzlement and other crimes.
By the time of the trial in 1990, Chris Chiles had moved into the top job and decided to personally
prosecute the case -- his first as the new prosecuting attorney. McGinnis was convicted of first-degree
murder and embezzlement, but the West Virginia Supreme Court reversed the conviction on appeal on
the grounds that the embezzlement evidence was not sufficiently related to the murder. The case was
retried, with the prosecution unable to use the embezzlement evidence, McGinnis was convicted of
second-degree murder and is serving a five-to-18-year prison term.
Every prosecutor has his most memorable case. This was Chris Chiles's.
Today, Chiles is in his fourth term as prosecuting attorney of Cabell County, which has a population of
just under 100,000. He supervises a staff of 18, which includes eight full-time assistant prosecutors, two
part-time assistants, one investigator, three victim advocates, three secretaries and one community
courts specialist, whose duties include monitoring individuals who are performing community service in
lieu of jail sentences.
With Kentucky and Ohio as across-the-river neighbors, Huntington was once a thriving industrial and
railroad hub. Now it's more of a business and academic center, with John Marshall University, a medical
school and two major hospitals its largest employers. "Unfortunately," Chiles says, "my county has the
highest crime rate per capita in the state. Part of the reason is that our police departments are under-
staffed. We're having some serious staffing problems, particularly with our city police department, due to
The budget and staffing problems have contributed to another serious concern for Chiles: "Getting police
officers to realize that we need enough evidence to prove (cases) beyond reasonable doubt, not just
probable cause. Because of their staffing issues and facing large backlogs of caseloads, it's sometimes
difficult to obtain the necessary additional information to get you over the hump.
"In one of my units," Chiles continued," I have only two detectives to deal with all the juvenile crimes and
sexual assaults in the city. One of those detectives is very experienced, but with all those cases, it's
difficult to do what you need to do to get just one case worked up, when you have 15 other cases sitting
on your desk."
Now in his 22nd year as a prosecutor, Chiles, a native of Huntington, has spent his entire prosecutorial
career in the Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, beginning with a summer internship between
his second and third year at West Virginia University's College of Law. In 1982 he was named assistant
prosecuting attorney, was appointed prosecuting attorney in 1990, when his boss left to accept a
judgeship, was elected to a full term and has been re-elected ever since.
An NDAA vice president, Chiles has represented the association at several national criminal justice
conferences and testified last September on the elder abuse issue before a Senate Judiciary
subcommittee. Of the latter, he recalls, "There were a number of other speakers, from AARP, ABA as
well as postal inspectors, who talked about things that need to be done. Our board had approved a
policy statement on elder abuse several months previously. Every single action that these other
speakers testified needed to be done to address the elder abuse problem we had already addressed in
our policy statement. It was very satisfying to be able to say that to the Senate subcommittee."
When not prosecuting or spending time with his family -- his wife Michaela (Mike) and three sons ranging
in age from 14 to 21 -- Chris Chiles, who is 48, coaches and umpires Little League baseball, works with
Boy Scouts, and coaches youth soccer teams, as well as refereeing soccer games at the youth, high
school and college levels. "It's a nice relief from the stress of operating a prosecutor's office," he says.
The rewards of being a local prosecutor, as Chiles sees it, include "knowing that we make
a difference, and that we can see or try to see that justice is done to the extent possible in
every case." He adds: "I've got three sons and I want to leave this county a little better
and safer for them.