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Slaying suspect had a troubled past

February 06, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A man charged in Tuesday's slaying of a Tomahawk church volunteer has a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, and once was admitted to a mental hospital after he became psychotic and violent, according to court records.

Banner Cornell Catlett, 21, was charged with murder in the shooting death of Andrew Mason, whose body was found in the kitchen of his mobile home located off Sawmill Road.

Catlett claimed he could communicate with UFOs, and has used various drugs, including crack, morphine, and marijuana, according to Berkeley County Circuit Court records.

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Catlett once threatened to kill a physician while being treated for drug intoxication and had refused medication in the past, court records said.

Mason had tried to help Catlett cope with his personal problems and help him understand the importance of Christian values, said Louis Whitford, pastor of the Hedgesville Assembly of God, where Mason had been working with the church youth group.

Mason's front door was kicked in and he was shot twice in the head with a .22-caliber rifle, according to Berkeley County Magistrate Court records.

Catlett allegedly stole a .22-caliber rifle from his mother, court records said.

West Virginia State Police, who are investigating the case, said they were trying to determine why Mason was killed.

"It's a tragic shock," Whitford said. "Young people liked him," he said, referring to Mason.

Catlett already had a first-degree arson charge pending against him when he was charged with murder in Mason's death Tuesday, according to court records. A Berkeley County grand jury indicted Catlett in connection with a house fire in September 1995, court records said.

Fire officials said the Sawmill Road house, where Catlett had been living at the time of the fire, sustained about $50,000 in damages in the blaze, according to court records.

Several fire crackers were found on the ground near the front of the house and a 9mm handgun was found under the front porch, according to information from the West Virginia Fire Marshal's office contained in court records.

Other evidence collected during the investigation included a shotgun and two rifles, court records said.

Officials said they later found Catlett sitting on a log in back of the house.

According to a report from the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston, W.Va., a mental hospital where Catlett had been admitted on two occasions, Catlett had threatened to burn his house. Catlett also had been burning his clothing, according to hospital reports that are part of the court records.

During Catlett's first admission to Sharpe Hospital last September, he responded well to medication but was delusional and having problems concentrating, said hospital reports.

Catlett's medication was then increased and he was counseled for his drug and alcohol abuse, hospital reports said.

Catlett was admitted to Sharpe Hospital again in October of last year after he began exhibiting erratic behavior, court records said. At that time, doctors administered an antipsychotic medication to treat his symptoms, according to hospital reports.

Mason used to live in Virginia Beach, Va., but grew weary of the party scene he had been involved in, his roommate, John Ashley, said Tuesday. Mason moved to Tomahawk about a year ago to get a fresh start, and enjoyed talking to youths about the dangers of living life in the fast lane, friends said.

Catlett initially was picked up on outstanding traffic charges after he was found walking near the Apollo Civic Theater on East Martin Street in Martinsburg, W.Va., about 4 p.m. Tuesday, police said.

Catlett was being held Wednesday in the Eastern Regional Jail near Martinsburg. A preliminary hearing for Catlett has been scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Magistrate Court.

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