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“West Virginia legislature has potentially opened up Pandora’s Box”

Posted: Friday, Jul 25th, 2014

GRAFTON – In the early morning hours of March 16, 1995, the body of a teen was found in a stream along Pleasant Creek, in Barbour County, West Virginia.

His body had been beaten, strangled, drowned, choked, and then carried around in the trunk of a car for days until he was finally disposed of.

Like a deer’s carcass after a hunt, he was tossed aside and left to the elements.

The brutal details of the murder were heard in the Taylor County courtroom, “They all three jumped in Larry’s mom’s car … and drove up the road …they had chased him down the railroad tracks and drug him back to the car and beat him up there at the car and at the railroad crossing … They put him in the car, as they were driving, they were beating him - - the two guys were beating him in the back seat … They took him to a remote area near a church and kept beating him up, and then put him in the trunk … They kicked him, punched him and used a rock … As they were dropping a rock on his head, he was screaming NO! … Larry said he was very hard to kill. That he thought that he had died seven different times … Larry said it was a wild rush, and it was better than any drug in the world … They wanted to detail how they killed him, and it made them laugh every time they thought about it … Larry said he was afraid he would do it again,” according to a witness that took the stand during Hall’s trial.

Taylor County Circuit Court Judge Alan D. Moats, then prosecutor, devoted countless hours to the case that ultimately found justice.

After hearing all of the evidence against Hall, then 17, Taylor County jurors found him guilty of first-degree murder, life without mercy. Judge John Waters sentence Hall, in accordance with the jury’s verdict on March 2, 1996.

Hall has been an inmate at the Mount Olive Correctional Center for the past 18 years, with no hope of parole.

But, a change in West Virginia’s law that took place in the last legislative session, will make Hall eligibile for parole September 2, 2014.

The bill, co-sponsored by Delegates Fleischauer, Skinner, Poore, Longstreth, Barill, Ellem, Sponaugle, Lynch, Manypenny, Hamilton and Pethtel, allows all juveniles the right to a parole hearing after 15 years.

The following words contained in a flyer, passed around through email and hardcopy, played a role in the decision lawmakers made, “Let’s End Life Without Parole for Kids in West Virginia! Urge West Virginia’s Chairman of the Finance Committee to schedule HB 4210 for a hearing … HB 4210, by Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, would abolish life without parole as a sentence option for children in West Virginia and ensure that every child convicted of a serious crime has an opportunity for parole after 15 years.”

State lawmakers made the change in response to a June 25, 2012, decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller vs. Alabama. In the 5-4 opinion, the court ruled juveniles could no longer be sentenced to life in prison without parole, citing the Eighth Amendment.

Taylor County Prosecuting Attorney John Bord believes that legislature needs to revisit the law.

Bord shared that in the state of Alabama, their statute required a mandatory sentence of life without mercy. In West Virginia, it has always been up to the jury. The jury can consider age, maturity, involvement, influences, ect., to ensure a fair verdict.

That is the major difference. The U.S. Supreme Court did not say that all life sentences without a chance of parole were unconstitutional, only the states where it is considered an automatic sentence. The legislature was under the false impression that all life sentences without a chance of parole were unconstitutional.

“That’s the major reason I’m upset, yes they made it retroactive, that’s a problem, but legislature didn’t understand that the law didn’t need changed at all,” disclosed Bord.

“Monday I received this in the mail. It is a parole hearing for Larry Hall. The crime took place when he was a juvenile, just weeks before he was 18. He was charged as an adult.

The United States Supreme Court, in the case Miller vs. Alabama said, ‘We therefore hold the eighth amendment and forbid a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.’ You cannot have a blanket scheme. You have to catch the word scheme. You can’t have a blanket scheme that says ‘life without parole.’ There has to be a scheme. There have been two state Supreme Court cases, one in Michigan and one in Pennsylvania. They both agreed, ‘The U.S. Supreme Court did not make sentences to life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles, it only made automatic life sentences unconstitutional for juveniles and required a different sentencing procedure to be followed to determine whether such a sentence is appropriate.’ Our legislature in its infinite wisdom, passes this bill that went into effect June 8, that says that basically no matter how many murders you commit as a juvenile, you will get a parole hearing in 15 years!” argued Bord.

“What should be stressed is if our state has a Columbine or Sandy Hook or any type of mass murder by a juvenile, in 15 years, they will see the parole board, no matter how many they kill. No other state in the union, to my knowledge, has a statute like ours. They have potentially opened up Pandora’s Box,” commented Bord.

Bord noted that the law was made retroactive, which means anyone sentenced before this bill went into effect, is also included. There are currently over a half a dozen cases affected in West Virginia where juveniles were sentenced longer than 15 years; life sentences without parole or possibly two life sentences with parole at the end of 30 years.

Bord revealed that The Prosecuting Attorney’s Association was initially informed that the law was not retroactive.

“When I got that letter, I called the Governor’s office immediately,” noted Bord, as he added, “We could have a shooting, a mass killing by a teen, and no matter how many lives are taken, the murderer will get to see a parole board in 15 years. There is no closure for the families of the victims! I remember arriving at the scene when they found the body of the teen. The images were gruesome, and I will never forget that day. I know the families, in cases like this, will never forget either. They deserve justice.”

For the complete article see the 07-25-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-25-2014 paper.

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